Study: Children Infected With Mild COVID-19 May Still Develop Long Symptoms

Investigators from University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston analyze data from individuals aged 5 to 18 years enrolled in the Texas CARES survey.

Even though individuals who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are more susceptible to developing long COVID, children infected with COVID-19 who are not hospitalized still experienced long COVID symptoms for up to 3 months, the results of a study by UTHealth Houston showed.

“We were interested in understanding if children impacted with an acute or severe infection of COVID-19 would go on to have persisting symptoms or what we call long COVID,” Sarah Messiah, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Pediatric Population Health at UTHealth School of Public Health-Dallas, said in a statement. “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.”

Investigators examined data from volunteers across Texas between aged 5 and 18 years old who were enrolled in the Texas CARES survey. The survey began in October 2020 and aimed to assess COVID-19 antibody status over time.

Data included in the study were collected before and after the vaccine rollout, as well as during the waves of the Delta and Omicron variants.

A total of 82, or 4.8%, children of 1813 reported having long COVID symptoms. Additionally, 1.5% showed symptoms that lasted between 4 and 12 weeks, including cough, fatigue, and loss of smell and taste.

Investigators also reported that an additional 3.3% reported that the symptoms, including cough, difficulty breathing, and loss of smell and taste, lasted longer than 12 weeks.

Furthermore, those who were obese and unvaccinated had a higher chance of developing long COVID, according to Messiah.

These findings were consistent with other research results showing that adults and children with comorbid health conditions who were unvaccinated had a higher risk of being hospitalized for the virus.

Additionally, they found that children who were infected with COVID-19 before the emergence of the Delta variant were more at risk of developing long COVID.

“If you had COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic, you were more at risk for longer symptoms. 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 said.

These results are important to highlight, because they indicate that non-hospitalized pediatric individuals may experience long COVID symptoms after a COVID-19 infection, she said.

Messiah said she encourages parents to continue to be cautious and get their children vaccinated against the virus, because it decreases the risk of infection and long COVID.

The study findings were published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal and funded and supported by the Texas Department of State Services.

The Texas CARES study is ongoing.

Reference

Children infected with a mild case of COVID-19 can still develop long COVID symptoms. News release. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. August 10, 2022. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/961529