While many studies have estimated how prevalent long COVID-19 is in adults, fewer have explored the risk among children.
More than 13.6 million U.S. children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ latest report based on data through June 16. That represents about 19 percent of all cumulative cases in the nation.
In May, the CDC released a report that found 1 in 5 adult COVID-19 survivors experience a condition that could be linked to their acute infection. Global studies have estimated as many as 49 percent of adults experience persistent symptoms four months after infections, but the picture is less clear for kids.
Three things to know about long COVID-19 in children:
1. Overall, long COVID-19 is believed to be much less common in children than adults, according to The New York Times. An article by author Pam Belluck last year cited comments made by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, MD, during an April 2021 congressional hearing in which he referenced a study that estimated between 11 percent and 15 percent of infected youth could experience a constellation of new or lingering symptoms. “When I wrote my story [last year], there was one estimate that said 11 to 15 percent of children could be at risk,” Ms. Belluck said in a June 22 New York Times report. “A recent study I’ve seen put it at 1.5 percent having symptoms after eight weeks.”
2. A study of 44,000 kids in Denmark, published June 22 in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, found that 11,000 tested positive for COVID-19 between between January 2020 and July 2021. Of those infected, a third experienced at least one long-term symptom.
Researchers analyzed the children, who ranged in age from infancy to 14 years old, and found common symptoms varied by age group. Children up through age 3 experienced mood swings, rashes and stomach aches, while children aged 4 to 11 experienced memory and concentration issues. For children aged 12 to 14, fatigue, mood swings, and memory and concentration issues were common.
“Our findings align with previous studies of long COVID and adolescents showing that although the chances of children experiencing long COVID is low especially compared to the control group, it must be recognized and treated seriously,” Selina Kikkenborg Berg, PhD, study co-author and a professor of cardiology at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, told CNN June 23.
3. There’s evidence that vaccination lowers the risk of experiencing long COVID-19, though more research is needed. Still, experts agree vaccination is the best way to prevent long COVID-19 among both kids and adults, given its ability to prevent severe illness, which studies have linked to a higher risk of experiencing persistent symptoms. The CDC on June 18 recommended vaccines for all children 6 months through 5 years — the last age group to become eligible for vaccination — after the FDA authorized Moderna’s two-dose regimen for young children and Pfizer’s three-dose regimen.