While kids who contract SARS-CoV-2 generally don’t get severe COVID-19, evidence is accumulating that some may suffer long-lasting effects akin to what’s been dubbed long COVID in adults. Healthcare centers around the world are setting up facilities to monitor and deal with the problem, including among children.
Data from the UK Office for National Statistics released in February showed that 13 percent of COVID-19 patients under the age of 11 and about 15 percent of those aged 12 to 16 had at least one symptom more than a month after diagnosis. And in a preprint posted on medRxiv at the end of January, researchers surveying caregivers of 129 patients under the age of 18 in Rome found that more than half of the children had yet to completely recover within four months of a positive SARS-CoV-2 test, and nearly one-quarter of the children had three or more symptoms that persisted for at least that long.
In both cases, the long-term challenges aren’t limited to those hit hard by the infection initially, the researchers found; even some children who didn’t feel sick when they first tested positive described symptoms months later.
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These data lack control groups, making it hard to assess whether symptoms such as fatigue and nasal congestion are truly related to the children’s SARS-CoV-2 infection. But it’s still important work, Lara Danziger-Isakov, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, tells Medscape Medical News about the medRxiv study. “It’s waving a flag to say we need to pay attention to this and do more investigation.”
That’s exactly what investigators are doing now. Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore’s Danilo Buonsenso, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Gemelli University Hospital and the lead author on the medRxiv preprint, and his colleagues are now gathering data on more young patients. And Terence Stephenson, a professor of child health at University College London, was recently awarded £1.36 million (nearly US $2 million) to study long COVID in patients aged 11 to 17 years, he tells The Guardian. “I don’t have a scientific view on what long Covid is in young people . . . because frankly, we don’t know.”
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In the meantime, healthcare centers such as Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, are setting up clinics to monitor minors who’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, Kaiser Health News (KHN) reports. “The question I can never answer for the parents is why one child and not another?” Jean Ballweg, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, tells KHN. “Hopefully, we can look at the collective experience and recognize patterns and provide better care.”