1 in 5 children experienced long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19 several months after being infected.

1 in 5 children experienced long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19 several months after being infected.

Kids with COVID-19 Can Experience Lingering Symptoms for Months, Study Finds

Kids with Long COVID

Close to one-fifth of kids with COVID-19 may still have lingering symptoms months after their initial infection, according to a recent review of 31 international studies. The findings shed light on the impact of COVID-19 on children and teenagers in the longer term, highlighting that they can indeed develop long COVID, contrary to earlier assumptions.

The study, published in the July 21 issue of Pediatrics, revealed that over 16% of children experienced problems such as sore throat, persistent fevers, fatigue, and muscle weakness at least three months after being infected. These findings emphasize the need to take COVID-19 in children seriously.

Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, co-director of the Centre for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, underscoring the gravity of the situation, said, “This is not a trivial infection.” With COVID-19 continuing to be a mystery, especially its long-term effects, it remains crucial to recognize that long COVID is not an exceptional occurrence among children.

To gain a better understanding of the long-term effects of COVID-19 in children and adults, researchers at Columbia University in New York City are conducting a large national study called RECOVER, which is funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Dr. Melissa Stockwell, division chief of child and adolescent health at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, explains that while the exact percentage of children affected by long COVID is unclear, evidence suggests it ranges between 10% and 20%. Consequently, the 16% figure from the review aligns with these estimates, emphasizing the significance of this issue.

What is alarming is that most people are oblivious to the fact that children can experience long COVID, as stated by Dr. Stockwell. The underlying biology of long COVID still eludes researchers, as they strive to determine whether persistent symptoms are caused by a lingering virus, an overactive immune response, or a combination of factors. Furthermore, it remains unclear why some children are affected while others remain symptom-free.

Based on the analysis of 31 studies involving over 15,000 children and teenagers with confirmed COVID-19, the review uncovered common symptoms experienced three months or more after diagnosis. Alongside persistent sore throat, fevers, fatigue, sleep problems, and muscle weakness, children also reported an array of other issues, including headaches, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Until more is known about long COVID, management focuses on alleviating specific symptoms in affected children. However, the duration of these symptoms remains uncertain. Dr. Bhutta suggests that some children do improve within six to 12 months, based on current knowledge. Although it is unclear whether COVID vaccination reduces the risk of long COVID in children, it is essential to note that vaccination significantly lowers the chances of severe illness.

Both Dr. Bhutta and Dr. Stockwell stress that parents should prioritize vaccinating their children and ensuring they are up to date with their boosters. Vaccination not only reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 but may also have an impact on long COVID. However, one major knowledge gap highlighted by Dr. Bhutta is the dearth of studies from middle- and low-income countries. With limited access to vaccines and treatments, the prevalence of long COVID in children in these regions could potentially be higher.

In conclusion, the findings from this review emphasize the importance of recognizing long COVID in children and teenagers. Understanding the long-term effects of COVID-19 in this population is crucial for developing appropriate management strategies. Ongoing research aims to unravel the underlying biology of long COVID and determine its duration and preventive measures. As the pandemic still lingers, prioritizing the vaccination of children remains pivotal in reducing the risk of both severe illness and long-term symptoms.

More information – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on long COVID.

Sources – Zulfiqar Bhutta, PhD, co-director, Centre for Global Child Health, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto – Melissa Stockwell, MD, MPH, division chief, child and adolescent health, professor, pediatrics, and population and family health, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons/Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and attending physician, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, New York City – Pediatrics, August 2023