Medical Resources :: General Medical Issues :: Health and Developmental Issues of Internationally Adopted Children [2004.January.05]
When evaluating a child who is newly adopted from abroad, the healthcare provider who first encounters the adoptive family in the office setting, is essentially creating a medical history from the limited pre-adoption medical information from the country of origin, the parent (s) experience with the child since adoption and information collected during a thorough initial medical and developmental evaluation hopefully performed within the first few weeks after the child's arrival.
Pre-adoption medical information
Most children adopted internationally do have pre-adoption medical abstracts that are quite limited. (1) There is rarely pre-natal care for orphans/foundlings and the transfer of information from birth mothers in maternity hospitals to orphanages in most countries is almost non-existent. In Russia, women often deliver babies at home or in a hospital and they leave the hospital quickly, relinquishing the child to the state. Because most children adopted from China are abandoned and found in public places, there is no pre-natal or birth/delivery information available. Orphanage staff make their best guess about the age of the child although sometimes, there is a "date of birth" note pinned to the child's clothing. This is in contrast to South Korea, with its excellent foster care system, where there is full disclosure of medical information, good pre-natal care, and opportunities to make inquiries about medical conditions in order to complete any missing information about the child's medical and developmental course while in foster care. On the whole the flow of information about children about to be adopted from all countries abroad continues to improve. That said, there are a number of health issues common to children who have been living in orphanages and enough medical experience has been accumulated since the mid to late eighties when international adoption began to grow in the U.S. making this information quite accessible and easy to know in the context of a primary care general medical practice.(2) From the most recent official Immigration and Naturalization statistics by end of 2002 (3), there were 20,099 children adopted from abroad with 5,053 from China and 4, 939 from Russia. Other popular countries for Americans to adopt from in 2002 were Guatemala, South Korea, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. International adoption reflects the "geopolitics" of the world, thus resulting in the shifting of numbers and countries from year to year.
From data from a retrospective cohort study of 504 internationally adopted children in 1997 and 1998 done by this author, (4) 10.4 % of children adopted from China had LTBI and 30% of children adopted from Russia had LTBI. This clearly reflects the endemicity of TB in China and Russia and should reinforce the need for such testing regardless of BCG status. (5) These children had negative chest films and were prescribed isoniazid (INH) once a day for nine months which in children is quite tolerable and safe. Per this author's experience, INH without sorbitol causes less diarrhea and would be the preferred product to ensure compliance for nine months. Liver enzymes were acquired at baseline, but were not followed unless there were symptoms to warrant those studies.
Hepatitis A, B, C
Hepatitis A is a fairly mild infectious
disease in children transmitted mainly in food and water in most countries
outside of the U.S. It can cause irreversible, even fatal damage to the
liver in adults, but it doesn't have a carrier state or a chronic state
which is how it differs from Hepatitis B and C. It would not be necessary
to test for Hepatitis A unless the child has transaminase elevations and/or
was symptomatic with liver disease i.e, jaundice. Hepatitis A is preventable,
with a two-vaccine series, administered six to twelve months apart, and
is recommended for all families traveling abroad to adopt children from
orphanages as it is highly transmissible in households and while traveling
outside the U.S. (6)
This is a rare disease in adoptees, but HIV has an evolving epidemiology. This author undertook a study of HIV prevalence in adoptees in the Spring of 2001 in preparation for a presentation at the Medical Institute of the Joint Council on International Children's Services (www.jcics.org) in April 2001 in Washington, D.C. Seventeen adoption centers in the U.S. participated and about 7,300 children were tested for HIV on arrival in the U.S. Fifty-nine children were ELISA positive for HIV and 12 children (0.16%) were found to have HIV infection. Of the 12, there was 1 child from Russia diagnosed in 1998, 4 from Cambodia, 4 from Romania, 1 from Panama, and 2 from Viet Nam. 10/12 (83%) of the children were negative at time of referral for adoption and then were found to be infected on arrival in the U.S. Much has changed since the author collected this data. China instituted mandatory testing in summer/fall 2002 for all children referred for adoption in orphanages in China reflecting the HIV crisis in China revealed in Elisabeth Rosenthal's New York Times series on the epidemic of HIV in China (9). HIV testing in Cambodia was moved from the Aurore lab to the illustrious Pasteur Institute and included PCR testing (Cambodia has since closed to international adoption completely). Adoption from Romania is in moratorium since the study and the children who tested positive from Romania were children adopted in the early 90s when there was no testing for HIV in that country. The author has no children infected with HIV in 10 years of practicing adoption medicine and evaluating about 2, 400 children in person.
Syphilis has turned out to be a rare diagnosis in children adopted from abroad. Though we see a lot of medical reports from Russia (10) that syphilis is epidemic, we rarely see the disease. This author typically sees "syphilis exposure" on about 10-15% of Russian pre-adoption medical abstracts. The vast majority of these children are reportedly treated with Penicillin injections for at least two weeks and in some cases for 30 days. This is likely why it is rare in Russia. It is rare in adoptees from China (11,12). Out of 2,400 kids seen in my office personally since the early 90s, I have three affected families with 5 infected children. Two children had congenital syphilis and were treated effectively on arrival with no long-term sequelae. Three sisters recently were diagnosed in November 2003 and were likely sexually abused by their stepfather in Russia hospital and were treated with Penicillin for 14 days and did well.
In Saiman et al, 87/461 (19%) of children
tested had evidence of Giardia lamblia by either antigen detection and/or
parasite identification. Being born in Eastern Europe was a risk factor
for the acquisition of Giardia. The next most common parasite was Dientamoeba
fragilis. A handful of children had bacterial pathogens such as Campylobacter,
Shigella and Salmonella. Frequent refractory cases of Giardia led this
author to use 30 mg per kg of metronidazole benzoate for 14 days instead
of 15 mg per kg for 5 days. A pharmacy in Cheshire, Connecticut (1-800-861-0933)
was found to be the best source of anti-parasite medication suspensions
with palatable flavors/textures leading to excellent compliance. In spite
of the controversy around whether to treat children with asymptomatic
Giardiasis, this author has always opted to treat for two reasons:
Helicobacter pylori and reflux esophagitis
From time to time the author has encountered a newly adopted child with recurrent episodes of reflux, vomiting and irritability. Though there are few studies of this entity in orphans (13), this author has encountered children with these symptoms and some have tested positive for H. pylori antigen in the stool; treatment of this entity according to established regimens with several antibiotics and ranitidine (H2 antagonist) has been successful with patients becoming miraculously symptom free.
Thirteen percent of Chinese adoptees had elevated blood lead levels on arrival. Rarely was lead elevated in adoptees from other countries (14). Only one child, a 14 month old toddler adopted from China in this author's practice of 10 years, had to be treated with 20 days of Chemet for lead poisoning with a level of 48 ug/dl. She did well and was developmentally normal. It is assumed that lead poisoning in China comes from lead containing gasoline and coal burning used for industry and home heating and cooking.
Immunization records of Adoptees
As immunization becomes more widespread and systematic in orphanages, and vaccines become more effective, health professionals are faced with a new dilemma regarding the recent arrivals: to immunize from the beginning regardless of records or to use antibody titers and available schedules to create a unique immunization plan. This has been an unfolding issue. In a study published in 1998 involving a small number of adoptees, "only 35% of Chinese, Russian, and EE adoptees exhibited protective titers to diphtheria and tetanus" (15). In similar studies (16, 17, 18, 19) over the last few years, there is increasing evidence that using antibody titers may be a more judicious approach to this issue. The most recent of these studies (19) involved this author's practice and studied the records of 113 children adopted from abroad through May 2003; as high as 97% of children had acceptable titers of diphtheria, 96% for tetanus, 94% for polio, and 77% for Hepatitis B. These data are quite impressive as compared to older studies and support the use of antibody titers for children over one year of age (avoiding the issue of residual maternal antibodies) along with a compulsive review of intervals for vaccines. It has been the thinking of adoption medicine specialists that vaccines done in Guatemala, South Korea, India, and Thailand are performed most uniformly in keeping with U.S. guidelines and are likely acceptable for younger children. It is this author's recommendation to consider repeating vaccines for children under one year of age, if they are adopted from Russia and China and to use the schedule along with antibody titers per the Redbook, to create an individualized schedule for children over one year of age from these countries. (20)
Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorders
There is no way to establish accurate data for the prevalence of FAS or FAE in adoptees because of the lack of accurate family history. We do know that there are no education programs warning pregnant women about the deleterious effects of alcohol on the unborn child and that drinking during pregnancy is quite common almost everywhere in the world, including the U.S. where there are public warnings. It is essential that families understand that exposure to alcohol cannot be diagnosed, but rather surmised from a child's development and behavior and that the diagnosis of the facial features of FAS is challenging. The diagnosis of the facial features of FAS is the focus of photo and video evaluations for pre-adoption assessments for families adopting children from Russia and Eastern Europe.
Malnutriton, failure to thrive, rickets, iron deficiency anemia, zinc deficiency, scabies, eczema
Undernutrition and the absence of crucial
elements, especially micronutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin
D is rampant in orphanages. Children living in orphanages abroad commonly
have rickets (vitamin D, calcium deficiency), iron deficiency anemia,
zinc deficiency, and eczema due to poor nutrition. Due to these conditions
children do not grow optimally and fail to thrive. (21)
Developmental Delays and Long-term issues
Development is the most important long-term
issue in adoptees from abroad, but it is impossible to do this topic justice
in a survey article of this nature. Most children adopted from abroad
are delayed on arrival in the U.S. and have amazing recovery. (24,25)
Per this author's experience, only about 60% of these children will qualify
for Early Intervention (EI) which is provided free through the Department
of Health in each county for children less than 36 months of age and provides
physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy in
the home for families with children who qualify. Pediatricians should
be aggressive about using the Denver II for each well-child visit and
referrals for EI should be proactive. Children frequently show later signs
of delay when they are challenged in a school environment and these delays
usually involve language. If delays are not managed appropriately, children
can develop behavioral problems which unnecessarily can undermine self-esteem.
Children who are adopted need the support of their pediatricians, school
teachers and their peers to understand their special identity issues as
Recommended Screening Tests and Evaluations (28)
1. Medical Issues in International adoption Section Infectious Diseases in Children. 2001;14: 11-22.
2. Chen LH, Barnett ED, Wilson ME. Preventing Infectious Diseases during and after International Adoption. Ann Intern Med. 2003; 139; 371-378.
3. U.S. Department of State. Immigrant visas issued to orphans coming into the U.S. Accessed at http://travel.state.gov/orphan_numbers.html on 3 May 2003.
4. Saiman L, Aronson J, Zhou J, et al. Prevalence of infectious diseases among internationally adopted children. Pediatrics. 2001; 108 (3); 608-612.
5. Lange WR, Warnock-Eckhart E, Bean ME. Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection in foreign born adoptees. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 1998; 8: 625-629.
6. Wilson ME, Kimble J. Posttravel hepatitis A: probably acquisition from an asymptomatic adopted child. Clin Infect Dis. 2001. 33: 1083-1085.
7. Friede A, Harris JR, Kobayashi JM, et al. Transmission of hepatitis B virus from adopted Asian children to their American families. Am J Public Health. 1988; 27: 26-29.
8. Nordenfel E, Dahlquist E. HBsAg positive adopted children as a cause of intrafamilial spread of hepatitis B. Scand J Infect Dis.1978; 10: 161-163.
9. Rosenthal, E. Suddenly, AIDS Makes the News in China. The New York Times. December 5, 2001.
10. Tichonova L, Borisenko K, Ward H, et al. Epidemics of syphilis in the Russian Federation: trends, origins, and priorities for control. Lancet. 1997; 350: 210-213.
11. Miller LC, Hendrie NW. Health of children adopted from China. Pediatrics. 2000; 105 (6): e76.
12. Albers LH, Johnson DE, Hostetter MK, et al. Health of children adopted from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: Comparison with predictive medical records. JAMA. 1997; 278: 922-924.
13. Miller LC, Kelly N, Tannemaat M, et al. Serologic prevalence of antibodies to Helicobacter pylori in internationally adopted children. Helicobacter. 2003; 8 (3):173-178.
14. Elevated blood lead levels among internationally adopted children - United States, 1998. MMWR. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2000; 49 (5): 97-100.
15. Hostetter MK, Johnson DE. Immunization status of adoptees from China, Russia and Eastern Europe. Presented at the Society for Pediatric Research; May 1-5, 1998; New Orleans, LA. Abstract 851.
16. Staat MA, Daniels D. Immunization verification in internationally adopted children (Abstract). Pediatr Res. 2001. 49:4648A. Abstract 851.
17. Staat MA, Daniels D. Immunization in internationally adopted children. Presented at the Academic Pediatric Society/Society for Pediatric Research meeting; May 1-4, 2001; Baltimore, MD. Abstract 2680.
18. Schulte JM, Maloney S, Aronson J, et al. Evaluating acceptability and completeness of overseas immunization records of internationally adopted children. Pediatrics. 2002; 109 (2): E22.
19. Gordon RR, Aronson J. Evaluating immunizations in internationally adopted children. Presented at the American Association of Pediatrics meeting, November 2003, New Orleans, LA.
20. American Academy of Pediatrics. Medical Evaluation of Internationally Adopted Children for Infectious Diseases. In: Pickering LK, ed. 2000 Red Book: Report of the Committee on Infectious Diseases. 25th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2000:148-152.
21. Miller, LC, Kiernan MT, Mathers MI et al. Developmental and nutritional status of internationally adopted children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1995; 149:40-44.
22. Jenista JA. Rickets in the 1990s. Adoption/Medical News. 1997;6:1-4.
23. Bhutta ZA, Black RE, Brown KH, et al. Prevention of diarrhea ad pneumonia by zinc supplementation in children in developing countries: pooled analysis of randomized, controlled trials. J Pediatr. 1999; 135: 689-697.
24. Miller LC. Initial assessment of growth, development, and the effects of institutionalization in internationally adopted children. Pediatr Ann.2000;29:224-232.
25. Judge S. Developmental Recovery and Deficit in Children Adopted from Eastern European Orphanages. Child Psychiatry and Human Development. 2003;34;49-62.
26. Borchers D and Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care. Families and Adoption: The Pediatrician's Role in Supporting Communication. Pediatr.2003;112;1437-1441.
27. The International Adoption Project, University of Minnesota. 2003; http://education.umn.edu/icd/iap.
28. Aronson J. Medical evaluation and infectious considerations on arrival. Pediatr Ann. 2000; 29: 218-222.
|This page last updated February 17, 2004 6:26 AM EST|