SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Developing long COVID is a fear every coronavirus patient likely deals with after their infection. While it’s still unclear who will (or won’t) develop lingering symptoms, a new study has found three key factors which could lead to a case of long COVID in children.
Study authors say children with at least four symptoms during their initial illness are most at risk of long COVID. Hospitalization for more than 48 hours and being older than 14 years-old are the other aggravating factors.
The most common symptoms of long COVID include fatigue, cough, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath. However, previous studies have shown that former COVID patients could suffer from over 200 different symptoms after their initial infection.
“We found that in some children, illness with COVID-19 is associated with reporting persistent symptoms after three months,” says lead author Professor Stephen Freedman from the University of Calgary in a media release.
“Our results suggest that appropriate guidance and follow-up are needed, especially for children at high risk for long COVID.”
1 in 10 hospitalized children develop long hauler symptoms
The international team analyzed data on 1,884 children with COVID in eight countries. They were tracked for 90 days between March 7, 2020 and January 20, 2021. Study authors found long COVID symptoms in nearly 10 percent of hospital cases and five percent of children who visited an emergency department because of their illness.
Children with COVID-19 usually have mild symptoms or none at all, with low hospitalization rates. However, the risk and features of long COVID are still poorly understood in patients of all ages.
“Reported rates of long COVID in adults are substantially higher than what we found in children,” reports co-lead author Prof. Nathan Kuppermann from UC Davis. “Our findings can inform public health policy decisions regarding COVID-19 mitigation strategies for children and screening approaches for long COVID among those with severe infections.”
The study in JAMA Network Open found nearly six percent of children who entered an emergency room reported symptoms of long COVID 90 days later.
“Our finding that children who had multiple COVID-19 symptoms initially were at higher risk for long COVID is consistent with studies in adults,” says co-lead author Prof. Todd Florin from Northwestern University.
“Unfortunately, there are no known therapies for long COVID in children and more research is needed in this area. However, if symptoms are significant, treatment targeting the symptoms is most important. Multidisciplinary care is warranted if symptoms are impacting quality of life.”
What does long COVID look like in kids?
Previous research has identified other common symptoms of long COVID in children, such as headache, sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties, and abdominal pain. The eight countries in the new study include Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Italy, Paraguay, Singapore, Spain, and the United States.
Researchers say the condition occurs in five percent of children with pre-existing health conditions, compared to 0.2 percent of their healthy peers.
A survey of more than 50,000 infected 11 to 17-year-olds in the United Kingdom suggested that up to 14 percent still had symptoms 15 weeks after their initial infection. The most common ailments included headaches, tiredness, and breathing difficulties.
Long COVID is an umbrella term for symptoms that last more than 12 weeks. Overall, health officials fear that one in five coronavirus survivors will have lingering effects of their illness for months and possibly years to come.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.