Large study estimates risks and prevalence of long COVID in children
New research published in JAMA Network Open offers new insights into the risk children face from long COVID. The findings reveal long COVID is relatively rare in children, and most prevalent in hospitalized adolescents over the age of 14.
The new study is one of the largest to investigate the lingering effects of COVID-19 in children. Almost 2,000 children were tracked for at least 90 days beyond their acute illness.
Overall, 9.8% of children hospitalized with COVID-19 displayed some lingering symptoms three months later. For non-hospitalized children that rate dropped to 4.6%. Coughs, shortness-of-breath and fatigue were the most commonly reported long COVID symptoms in children.
Several factors alongside hospitalization were found to increase a child’s risk of developing long COVID. Females over the age of 14 who presented to hospital with four or more symptoms were most likely to show signs of long COVID at 90 days.
Nathan Kuppermann, co-principal investigator on the new study, said it seems long COVID appears less frequently in children compared to adults. He also noted the findings can help parents and doctors identify those children most at risk of long COVID.
"Reported rates of long COVID in adults are substantially higher than what we found in children," said Kuppermann. "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."
Exactly why older children seem more likely to develop long COVID than younger children is unclear. One hypothesis suggested is older children are more likely to be able to effectively verbalize specific symptoms compared to young children, which could account for the higher rates of long COVID in teenagers.
"We're relying on parents to report how their kids are acting," Kuppermann explained to NBC News. "A two-year-old isn't going to tell you about COVID fog, and I'm not sure their parent would be able to detect COVID fog in a way that maybe a 15-year-old could."
While the study is somewhat good news for parents, confirming long COVID is less prevalent in children than adults, it does also indicate the persistent condition is still a problem for a small minority of young people. Todd Florin, another investigator on the project, said long COVID is still appearing in children and there is a crucial need for researchers to investigate novel treatments.
"Unfortunately, there are no known therapies for long COVID in children and more research is needed in this area,” said Florin. “However, if symptoms are significant, treatment targeting the symptoms is most important. Multidisciplinary care is warranted if symptoms are impacting quality of life."
The new study was published in JAMA Network Open.
Source: University of Calgary