August 10, 2022

In The News: New Study Estimates How Many Children Will Get Long COVID

NBC News reports on an international study estimating the prevalence of long COVID symptoms in children and compares that to adults. The project included 1,884 children diagnosed with COVID-19 seen in an emergency department and 1,701 children without COVID, but who went to sought emergency care for other reasons. The study findings estimate anywhere between 5% to 10% of children develop ongoing symptoms following infection, whereas estimates for adults are about a third of that population.

Researchers identified a number of factors could often predict which children would have long COVID. Among the factors were age, long-term symptoms tended to appear in those 14 years of age and older, and presenting seven or more COVID symptoms during initial illness, as well as hospitalization of more than two days. Theories of why symptoms were identified more readily with older teens than younger children included adolescents have more viral particles in their system and that teenagers are better at describing how they feel.

Parents and their children were interviewed at two weeks and again at three months post-emergency room visit. For those children sick enough to be admitted, 9.8% reported ongoing symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, three months later. If the children had been discharged directly, 4.6% continued to have symptoms at that same marker.

Additionally, the study found as many as 5% of children hospitalized for something other than COVID also showed ongoing symptoms at 90-day follow up. This led to speculation that other factors related to the pandemic – lockdown, isolation, remote schooling – may play a role in the ongoing symptoms, and not just COVID itself.

Study participants came from Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Italy, Paraguay, Singapore, Spain and the United States, though the majority were from the U.S.

Roberta DeBiasi, member of the PIDS board, is quoted in the story. Regarding the 5%-10% of children with long COVID being a reassurance to parents, she said, “The odds are on your side that if your child gets COVID, it’s going to be a mild illness and they’re not going to have long-term issues.” However, she did caution that persistent symptoms need to be monitored. She added, “Not thinking clearly, having difficulty in school…there’s a variety of things we’re seeing. We want to make sure they get the care they need and not feel dismissed.”

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