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New study identifies risk factors for children developing long COVID

Under 10% of children had symptoms of COVID-19 for more than 90 days

Child with doctor COVID-19 concept
Photo (c) Marko Geber - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Calgary explored how long COVID, or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 for 90 days or more after the initial infection, may affect kids.

“We found that in some children, illness with COVID-19 is associated with reporting persistent symptoms after three months,” said researcher Dr. Stephen Freedman. “Our results suggest that appropriate guidance and follow-up are needed, especially for children at high risk for long COVID.” 

Risk factors for kids

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 1,800 children who tested positive for COVID-19 between March 2020, and January 2021. The children received care at 36 different emergency departments across the country, and the team followed them for at least 90 days after infection. 

Of the children involved in the study, under 6% of them reported symptoms related to COVID-19 90 days after their initial infections. The researchers identified three main factors that were consistent among the kids who did experience long COVID: being 14 years old or older, experiencing four or more COVID-related symptoms at the initial visit to the emergency room, and being hospitalized with COVID-19 for at least two days. 

“Our finding that children who had multiple COVID-19 symptoms initially were at higher risk for long COVID is consistent with studies in adults,” said researcher Dr. Todd Florin. “Unfortunately, there are no known therapies for long COVID in children and more research is needed in this area. However, if symptoms are significant, treatment targeting the symptoms is most important. Multidisciplinary care is warranted if symptoms are impacting quality of life.” 

Similar to adults with long COVID, shortness of breath, fatigue, and coughing were the three most common symptoms of kids with persistent COVID-19 symptoms. While the risk of long COVID is much higher in adults than it is in kids, it’s important for parents and health care providers to be aware of the factors that may affect kids’ health long-term. 

“Reported rates of long COVID in adults are substantially higher than what we found in children,” said researcher Dr. Nathan Kuppermann. “Our findings can inform public health policy decisions regarding COVID-19 mitigation strategies for children and screening approaches for long COVID among those with severe infections." 

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