Long COVID is still possible for kids with mild cases of the virus, study finds

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Kids may not need to be hospitalized to develop long-term COVID-19 symptoms

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston explored some of the risks that kids face with mild cases of COVID-19. According to their findings, developing long COVID is still possible for kids with mild symptoms who don’t require hospitalization. 

“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,” said researcher Sarah Messiah, Ph.D. “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.” 

Health risks

The researchers analyzed data from over 1,800 kids between the ages of five and 18 who were enrolled in the Texas CARES survey. The team assessed the kids’ health outcomes with COVID-19, with all the data being taken before the surges of both the Delta and Omicron variants and the release of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Ultimately, just under 5% of the kids involved in the study developed long-term COVID-19 symptoms; of that group, over 3% had persistent symptoms for over 12 weeks. Though previous studies have found that kids with the most severe infections are likely to develop long COVID, this study showed that even kids with mild cases may be just as susceptible to long-term COVID-19 symptoms. 

The researchers also pointed out that the timing of this study may have something to do with the results. They explained that many kids who were infected with either the Delta or Omicron variants had less severe symptoms; however, the kids in this study were infected much earlier in the pandemic, which may explain their lingering symptoms. 

After examining the data more closely, the researchers identified a few other risk factors that could predict the likelihood of kids developing long COVID. 

“From this information we wanted to know, ‘What would put a child more at risk for long COVID and who is more susceptible to this?’” Dr. Messiah said. “When we looked at risk factors of those who reported symptoms past 12 weeks, we found that children who were unvaccinated and who had obesity had a higher chance of developing long COVID. These findings are consistent with other literature that found children and adults who have comorbid health conditions and are unvaccinated are at a higher risk of being hospitalized for the virus.” 

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