Long COVID and Children
Columbia University Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Figurski
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
(Disclaimer: The World Health Organization <WHO> has officially named the new coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes as COVID-19. Because the majority of people, including much of the press, commonly refer to the virus as “COVID-19,” to avoid confusion, I use COVID-19 as the name of the virus.)
It has been accepted that the infection of teens and children with COVID-19 rarely results in significant symptoms, but it’s worrisome that they may be as susceptible as anyone else to a recently identified effect of COVID-19 – a syndrome called “long COVID.”
Children with the virus often show no signs of infection, and sometimes they (and their parents) are not even aware that they have been infected. Contrast that with the experiences of the very old. Infection of the elderly often leads to severe disease and can result in death. Nobody has yet been able to explain how age results in the radical difference in sensitivity to the effects of the virus.
Doctors and scientists are also unable to explain the onset of the delayed symptoms of long COVID. In one study, 10-13% of children who knew they were infected thought they had recovered. They tested negative for the virus, and most of their symptoms were gone. In some cases, there were several weeks of good health. But weeks or months later, they showed new symptoms. (Adult symptoms include fatigue; fever; cough; sore throat; chest pain; shortness of breath; neurocognitive problems with memory, concentration, processing, or finding words; diarrhea; headaches; insomnia; dizziness; heart palpitations; abdominal cramps, rashes; tinnitus; joint pain; depression; and anxiety.) The symptoms may last weeks or months, and some people still have symptoms after several months.
Particularly worrisome is the fact that mild or asymptomatic acute infections can still lead to long COVID. This means that children, who were thought to be unbothered by infection, are, in fact, sensitive to long COVID.
I haven’t seen the data, but I suspect that the 10-13% number came from people who either had an obvious symptom or tested positive. If we include the number of asymptomatic infections, the percentage of infected children who get long COVID will likely go down significantly. If you and your children are using masks and social-distancing, then you’re already at a low risk of even getting infected.
The bottom line is that this virus still shows surprises. It’s definitely too early to relax.
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