- Researchers say 27% of children hospitalized with COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic had health problems months after being treated.
- They said the most common conditions were impaired activity and persistent symptoms.
- Experts say parents can help their children by reducing their risk of contracting COVID-19 by having their children vaccinated and observing safety protocols such as mask-wearing and physical distancing.
More than a quarter of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic had health problems two to four months later.
To research published today in the journal Pediatrics reports that 27% of children hospitalized with COVID-19 had either impaired activity, persistent symptoms, or both conditions two to four months after being treated for the disease.
“Nearly three-quarters were back to baseline, which is reassuring. But, unfortunately, more than one in four were not,” Dr Adrienne RandolphThe study’s principal investigator and senior associate in critical care medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a press release.
“While this is much better than many reports in hospitalized older people, it is still very concerning. The risks of serious illness and continuing complications are higher than the risk of complications from the vaccine, which are very rare,” a- she added.
The research was conducted between May 2020 and May 2021, before vaccines were available for children.
The most common persistent symptoms were fatigue or weakness, shortness of breath, cough, headache, muscle and body aches, and fever.
Dr. Dean Blumbergchief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California’s Davis Children’s Hospital, says the study is a good reminder that while hospitalization and ICU admission rates may be lower in children than in adults, COVID-19 can still have a significant long-term impact on them.
“They are still significantly impacted by this. It can change their way of life. This can alter their ability to participate in normal childhood activities. I think this is a wake-up call for some parents at least about the importance of protecting their children from COVID to ensure they are vaccinated and avoid high risk situations for infection” , Blumberg told Healthline.
The children and adolescents in the study also reported impaired activity after two to four months.
This included not being able to walk or exercise as much as they could before, sleeping more than usual, feeling distracted or unfocused, and having difficulty completing school work.
It’s something that Dr Jaime FriedmanSan Diego pediatrician, saw in his patients.
“I have seen children with reduced stamina and difficulty returning to sport after COVID. Luckily in the children I saw it was temporary,” she told Healthline.
“It is very worrying because many believe that COVID does not affect children. We know it does not. With the start of the school year, I am worried about the increase in infections. It is not not ‘just a cold’ for everyone,” Friedman added.
Among them, only 1,201 were children and adolescents.
However, experts say COVID-19 still needs to be taken seriously in children because the long-term impact of persistent symptoms or impairment can be significant.
“If a long COVID leads to impaired learning, it can affect a child’s future. It can affect their future career, their financial success, it can affect them in so many ways,” Blumberg said.
“There is growing evidence that infection with COVID can lead to the development of more chronic diseases such as diabetes, and therefore this can also affect their physical health,” he added. “There are many different effects that can occur in children and the real tragedy is that there are no right solutions. There have been very few studies on what to do with patients with long COVID and to develop any kind of effective therapies.
While the study looked at children who were admitted to hospital, experts say even children who are not hospitalized can still experience health problems from COVID-19 infection.
“Some children also have persistent symptoms or activity disturbances after COVID-19, even if they did not require hospitalization,” Dr Julianne Burnspediatric infectious disease physician at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health in California, Healthline told Healthline.
“Paediatricians have seen many children whose lives are affected after COVID-19 illness. Persistent symptoms, especially fatigue, can prevent older children from going to school and participating in sports and other activities they once enjoyed. Even the youngest children can experience symptoms that affect their daily life, such as needing to nap more often,” she added.
Experts who spoke to Healthline say the best thing parents can do to protect their children is to try to avoid COVID-19 in the first place by taking reasonable precautions.
“Parents can ensure their children are up to date on the COVID-19 vaccination (including boosters, if eligible) which has been shown to reduce the risk of severe disease. It’s important even if the kids have had COVID-19 before,” Burns said.
“Parents can also take reasonable protections to try to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, such as wearing a mask in crowded environments, and especially indoors,” she added.