Researchers and clinicians have found that when people are hospitalized with COVID-19, they are more likely to develop symptoms that last for a long time, commonly known as long COVID, compared to people with milder cases. This happens whether hospitalized people are young or old. But scientists have now found that children who get COVID-19 may experience symptoms for up to three months after the onset of infection, even when their cases did not lead to a hospital stay. The findings have been reported in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.
In this study, investigators analyzed data from volunteers between the ages of 5 and 18 who were part of the Texas CARES survey. This effort started in October 2020, and has aimed to assess antibodies among adults and children in Texas who were infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Data was collected before and after vaccines were released, and during infection waves caused by the Delta and Omicron variants.
The researchers wanted to know if children with an acute or severe COVID-19 infection would have symptoms that persisted, or what is known as long COVID, explained first study author Sarah Messiah, Ph.D., MPH, a professor at the University of Texas. "This particular study is unique as the first population-based study in literature to report on prevalence of long COVID in children who have not been hospitalized with COVID-19."
Of 1,813 people under the age of 18 who had COVID-19, 82 individuals or about 4.8 percent had long COVID. In that group,1.5 percent had symptoms like loss of smell, cough, and fatigue, which lasted for four to twelve weeks; another 3.3 percent reported had similar symptoms that persisted for over 12 weeks.
Consistent with other studies, the researchers determined that when children were not vaccinated or were obese, they were more likely to have symptoms that lasted for more than twelve weeks, noted Messiah.
The study also suggested that kids who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 prior to the emergence of the Delta variant were more likely to have long COVID; infections that occurred earlier in the pandemic were more likely to lead to long COVID.
"With Delta and Omicron, we did see a lot of children who ended up hospitalized, but their symptoms were less severe, and our results show they were also less likely to report persistent symptoms too," Messiah added.
Messiah noted that this research has highlighted cases of non-hospitalized children who may have persistent long COVID symptoms.
"There may be a perception that one needs to be hospitalized to have long COVID, and that is not what we found. I encourage parents to still take caution and get their child vaccinated against COVID-19, because we now know that it will decrease the risk of infection and long COVID," she said.