In a new study, researchers revealed how certain factors influence the risk of long COVID in children.
Long COVID is a term given to COVID symptoms that continue following initial infection. Most COVID infections improve within four weeks, but they can persist in some individuals for an extended period. The definition of long COVID in children recently became much clearer following an analysis by UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health that stated the requirement to differentiate between a clinical case definition and a research definition.
A new study by the University of Calgary identified key risk factors that contribute to the likelihood of long COVID in children arising. The researchers published their findings in Jama Network Open.
Studying 1,884 children with COVID
In their study, the researchers analysed 1,884 children from eight countries with COVID who had a 90-day follow-up. They found long COVID in almost 10% of hospitalised children and 5% in children discharged from the emergency department.
“Reported rates of long COVID in adults are substantially higher than what we found in children,” said Co-Principal Investigator Nathan Kuppermann, MD, MPH, from the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento. “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 risk factors for long COVID in children
The researchers found multiple surprising risk factors of long COVID in children during their study.
When studying the 1,884 children, they found that most reported persistent symptoms in children were fatigue or weakness, cough, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath.
“Our finding that children who had multiple COVID-19 symptoms initially were at higher risk for long COVID is consistent with studies in adults,” said Co-Principal Investigator Todd Florin, MD, MSCE, from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “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 the quality of life.”
Further risk factors for long COVID in children were discovered during the study, including initial hospitalisation of 48 hours or more and children aged 14 years or older.
“We found that in some children, illness with COVID-19 is associated with reporting persistent symptoms after 3 months,” said Principal Investigator Stephen Freedman, MDCM, MSc, with the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, and Alberta Health Services. “Our results suggest that appropriate guidance and follow-up are needed, especially for children at high risk for long COVID.”