6 notes on long COVID-19 in children

While many studies have focused on the prevalence of long COVID-19 among adults, with estimates indicating between 10 percent and 30 percent of COVID-19 patients affected by lingering symptoms, not as much research has focused on how it affects children who have had the virus. 

Anecdotal reports suggest many young people experience lingering neurological, physical and psychiatric symptoms after a COVID-19 infection, raising concerns about school performance, The New York Times reported Aug. 8.     

Six more notes: 

1. A study cited at an April congressional hearing by Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health, found between 11 percent and 15 percent of youth infected with the virus may become long haulers, the Times reports.

2. The Times spoke with several young teens experiencing prolonged symptoms such as severe fatigue, cognitive mix-ups or brain fog, anxiety, and other issues disrupting their school performance. 

For instance, Will, a 15-year-old tennis player from Dallas whose COVID-19 infection kept him bed ridden for 35 days, described a number of cognitive issues when he returned to high school classes, such as brain fog causing him to see "numbers floating off the page in math." The student also described forgetting to turn in assignments he'd already completed and mixing fragments of French and English. 

"I handed it to my teacher, and she was like 'Will, is this your scratch notes?,'" he told the Times. "Am I going to be able to be a good student ever again? Because this is really scary." 

3. Some physicians have found children who initially had mild or asymptomatic infections still experience lingering symptoms. "The potential impact is huge," said Avindra Nath, MD, chief of nervous system infections at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "I mean, they're in their formative years. Once you start falling behind, it's very hard because the kids lose their own self-confidence too. It's a downward spiral," he told the Times.

4. At Boston Children's Hospital's post COVID-19 program, most patients were never hospitalized and recovered at home, "and then they have symptoms that just never go away — or they seem to get totally better and then a couple of weeks or a month or so after, they develop symptoms," Molly Wilson, MD, a neuroinfectious diseases specialist at the hospital told the news outlet. 

Some studies have indicated older children are more likely to report long-term issues. The Times cited a U.K. study that found 9.8 percent of children aged 2 to 11 experienced lingering COVID-19 symptoms five weeks later, while 13 percent of 12-to-16-year-olds said the same. After 12 weeks, those figures fell to 7.4 percent in the younger group and 8.2 percent in the older group. Some researchers predict that after puberty, hormones could amplify immune responses — a potential explanation for why higher proportions of older children experience persistent symptoms. 

5. The highly contagious delta variant, first detected in India and now the dominant U.S. strain, has driven pediatric cases and hospitalizations up in recent weeks, with children under 12 still ineligible for vaccines. Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 4.2 million U.S. children have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children made up between 1.3 percent and 3.5 percent of total cumulative COVID-19 hospitalizations as of July 29.


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