Children hospitalized for health problems due to COVID-19

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Children hospitalized for COVID-19 may have persistent symptoms for several months. Oleksandra Pavlova/Getty Images
  • Researchers say 27 percent of children hospitalized for COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic had health problems months after treatment.
  • They said the most common conditions were activity impairment and persistent symptoms.
  • Experts say parents can help their children reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19 by getting them vaccinated and following safety protocols such as wearing masks 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.

The study, published today in the journal Pediatrics reported that 27 percent of children hospitalized with COVID-19 had either impaired activity, persistent symptoms, or both two to four months after being treated for the disease.

“Almost three-quarters returned to baseline, which is reassuring. But unfortunately, more than one in four were not,” Dr. Adrienne Randolph, the study’s lead investigator and senior associate in the critical care department at Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a news release.

“While this is much better than many reports of elderly people being hospitalized, it is still a cause for concern. The risk of severe disease and long-term complications is higher than the risk of complications from the vaccine, which are very rare,” she added.

The study was conducted between May 2020 and May 2021, before the advent of vaccines for children.

The most common long-term symptoms were fatigue or weakness, shortness of breath, cough, headache, muscle and body aches, and fever.

Dr. Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, says the study is a good reminder that while hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions may be lower in children than in adults, COVID-19 all may still have a significant long-term impact on them.

“They’re still feeling a significant impact from it. It can change their way of life. This can change their ability to participate in normal childhood activities. I think it’s a wake-up call for some parents at least about how important it is to protect their kids from COVID, make sure they’re vaccinated and avoid high-risk situations,” Bloomberg told Healthline.

Children and adolescents in the study also reported decreased activity after two to four months.

These included not being able to walk or exercise as much as they used to, sleeping more than usual, feeling distracted or confused, and having difficulty completing schoolwork.

That’s what Dr. Jaime Friedman, a pediatrician in San Diego, has seen in her patients.

“I’ve seen kids with reduced stamina and problems returning to sports after COVID. Fortunately, in the children I saw, it was temporary,” she told Healthline.

“This is very worrying as many people believe that children are not affected by COVID. We know this is not the case. With the start of school, I am worried about the increase in the number of infections. It’s not ‘just a cold’ for everyone,” Friedman added.

data The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 1 million people in the United States have died from COVID-19.

Only 1,201 of them are children and teenagers.

However, experts say that COVID-19 still needs to be taken seriously in children, as the long-term impact of persistent symptoms or impairment can be significant.

“If prolonged COVID leads to learning impairment, it can affect a child’s future. It can affect their future careers, their financial success, it can affect them in so many ways,” Bloomberg said.

“There is increasing evidence that exposure to COVID can lead to the development of more chronic diseases such as diabetes, and therefore can also affect their physical health,” he added. “There are many different outcomes that can happen to children, and the real tragedy is that there are no good solutions. Very little research has been done on what to do with patients with prolonged COVID-19 and to develop any effective therapy.”

While the study looked at children who were hospitalized, experts say that even children who are not hospitalized can have health problems after contracting COVID-19.

“Some children also have persistent symptoms or impairments after COVID-19, even if they did not require hospitalization,” Dr. Julianne Burns, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Stanford Medical Children’s Health in California, told Healthline.

“Pediatricians have seen many children whose lives have been affected by COVID-19. Persistent symptoms, especially fatigue, can prevent older children from attending school and participating in sports and other activities they used to enjoy. Even younger children can experience symptoms that affect their daily lives, such as needing more sleep,” 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 by taking common sense precautions.

“Parents can make sure their children are vaccinated against COVID-19 (including a booster shot if eligible), which has been shown to reduce the risk of severe illness. This is important even if the children have already had COVID-19,” Burns said.

“Parents can also take reasonable precautions to try to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19, such as wearing a mask in public places, especially indoors,” she added.

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