‘No answers yet’: Parents say some children also have ‘long-distance’ symptoms of COVID-19

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TORONTO – In mid-March, Chandra Pasma and her family started to feel unwell. She and her husband had a fever, sore throat and a dry cough before their three children did the same shortly after. Ottawa’s mother’s seven-year-old twins, Clara and Luc, were particularly ill with a range of symptoms, including a severe cough, chest pain, abdominal cramps, conjunctivitis (pink eye) and fatigue.

Pasma’s nine-year-old daughter Mira seemed to be doing better with only a mild fever and sore throat.

Within weeks, their initial symptoms had eased and Pasma said they thought they had recovered.

But they weren’t out of the woods yet.

Since March, all five have experienced varying and sometimes debilitating symptoms that came, went, and reappeared without warning.

Luc couldn’t stop coughing for 12 consecutive weeks. For Clara, it was 18 weeks and she was often out of breath. The twins also had recurring episodes of chest pain, fatigue and nausea.

“It was really hard to manage,” Pasma told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview in late July. “It was as if for a long time, nothing was working.”

Even Mira, who was mildly ill in March, had several relapses of fever and sore throat in the following weeks. She also exhibited new symptoms, including rashes, mouth sores, headaches, and blocked lymph nodes, for months.

Because they had not traveled outside the country, had not required hospitalization, and were not aware of any exposure to a known case of COVID-19, the family was not eligible for testing when the first symptoms appear.

It was only later that Pasma learned that they may have been exposed to the virus at their children’s bus stop, as a person who regularly waited there had tested positive for the disease and is became one of Ottawa’s first confirmed cases.

Their family doctor had also told them that these were probable cases of COVID-19 based on their symptoms, although Pasma and her youngest daughter tested negative when they were finally tested weeks later. their initial illness.

Pasma is one of the many parents who reached out to CTVNews.ca to share how their children experienced long-lasting and sometimes debilitating symptoms of what they believe to be a coronavirus infection.

While the existence of chronic symptoms potentially linked to COVID-19 has been well documented in ‘long-haul’ adults in recent months, similar experiences of children have been largely overlooked. This is in part because experts say these long-term symptoms are rarer in children than in adults, and the majority of young people appear asymptomatic or have mild symptoms if they contract the virus.

Despite the rarity, Pasma and others like her want people to know that it can affect all ages with varying degrees of severity.

“We know firsthand how dangerous this disease can be and that even though the risk of serious illness and death in children is lower than in adults, that does not mean that children will not be sick for a very long time. or that it not permanent damage to their body, whether it is the development of asthma or just long-term inflammation, “Pasma said.

‘THIS IS REALLY SCARY’

Sherri Godby has had a similar experience in recent months with her three children. She said she believed they may have been infected with the coronavirus in March when one of her friends fell ill, but that they never tested positive for COVID-19 because they too have been tested too late.

Godby’s adopted 10-year-old son Kaden has had a particularly difficult time with the symptoms he has been experiencing again since March. It started with a rash all over the upper torso and arms.

In April, Kaden complained of pain in his feet when he tried to kick a ball.

“I thought ‘Holy cow!’ His toes were so bad, ”Godby recalls in a phone interview from his Edmonton home. “They were purple and red and they were inflamed and blistered.”

When she took him to the hospital, he was told he likely had “COVID toes,” as it is commonly known, which involves the development of painful lesions on his hands and feet and generally affects young adults and children.

Covid Toes

Godby said the lesions on Kaden’s toes were finally gone after about two months, but he still had a rash on his upper body and arms and she took him to hospital in early July because he was vomiting and had diarrhea.

Her other two children had sporadic chest pain and breathing problems.

For Lisa Audet’s two daughters, Chloe, 14, and Laina, 12, their spring and summer have been marked by continuous waves of new and unexpected symptoms.

Audet said she believed she, her husband and two daughters contracted coronavirus while traveling to Las Vegas and Arizona in February. She said they all had symptoms in early March when they returned home to Thunder Bay, Ont.

Like Pasma and Godby, her family has never tested positive for COVID-19, although a health professional with the Ontario Public Health Telehealth Telephone Service told her they should be considered suspected cases.

In March, Chloe had relatively mild symptoms of fatigue, chest pressure, eye pain, and intermittent nausea, while Laina had only a few sniffles and pain in her eyes.

Lisa Audet

A month and a half later, however, Audet said her 14-year-old daughter’s nausea had returned for a long time with new symptoms, including numbness in the tongue, tingling and numbness in the face, extreme fatigue, tingling. in his feet. , and a persistent rash and discharge from his eyes.

At the beginning of August, Chloe still suffers from fatigue and intermittent tingling in her feet. Her younger sister, Laina, has also experienced waves of fatigue and severe headaches, which Audet says is unusual for her.

“It’s really scary because we don’t know what the future will be like,” Audet told CTVNews.ca in early August. “We don’t know if there will be any long-term damage, so it’s pretty scary.”

FOCUS ON CHILDREN

Toronto-based family physician and medical researcher Dr. Iris Gorfinkel said it’s still unclear why some children may experience post-COVID-19 symptoms for long periods of time.

As in adults, there could be several explanations why children can also have waves of new symptoms that can recur over weeks or even months.

Gorfinkel said the virus could cause direct damage to organs in the body, leading to long-term problems for the individual.

She also said that it was possible that the virus was responsible for inciting an immune disease in which the body produces antibodies that fight the disease, but also cross-reacts with its own tissues and causes an autoimmune problem. chronic.

Finally, Gorfinkel said that some people’s bodies can become overworked and develop a hyperimmune response in which the immune system begins to attack its own organs after the virus is gone.

“It’s hard to know. I don’t think we have good data on this yet, ”she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview at the end of July.

Gorfinkel said pediatric research into how the disease affects children lags behind research in adults, as deaths mostly occur in older people. She said that over time they will be able to better understand the impact of the disease on children.

“From fatigue to brain fog, relapsing fever, diarrhea, rashes… what are the numbers there? I wish I could tell you, I just don’t know and I don’t know a meter, ”she said. “We cannot assume that this number is zero. I think that’s a very dangerous thinking… I think we have to approach it from the point of view of yes the kids are going to fall out of this we just don’t know what it is.

That is why Gorfinkel said there is a need for more research to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 in children.

“We need to take a close look at what the pediatric consequences will be, what is going to happen in this space,” she said. “We know it’s not death, most of the time it’s not the ICU, most of the time it’s not intubation.”

Gorfinkel, however, said serologic data showed that older children aged 10-19 appear to have a similar antibody response to the virus as those aged 20-49. children experience more severe and long-term symptoms of the disease than younger ones.

Pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Anna Banerji in Toronto agreed that adults are much more likely to experience chronic post-COVID-19 symptoms than children. She cited mononucleosis or “mono” and chickenpox as examples of other viruses that can cause more severe symptoms in adults than in children.

And while Banerji has said it is certainly possible for children, especially older ones, to have these symptoms, they will be in the minority.

“Most of them will have minimal symptoms that are nothing more than a common cold,” she told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview at the end of July. “It would be extremely rare for them to have more chronic symptoms.”

Banerji also stressed that parents shouldn’t be afraid to send their children back to school in the fall, as their risk of long-term symptoms is low.

“We need to get the kids back to school because there is a real harm to children, especially to mental health, compared to the extremely low risk of having some of the chronic symptoms associated with COVID,” a- she declared.

Even after battling her own family’s illness, Pasma said she also wants her children to return to school in the fall, as she believes this will be beneficial for their overall well-being.

Nonetheless, she said she wanted others to be aware of the potential consequences for children, however rare, so that they would take public health advice seriously and practice physical distancing and hygiene in the environment. schools.

“I see a lot of people talking about reopening schools, saying that children don’t get sick, or that there is no real risk to children, and I want the conversation to accurately reflect the situation, which children make to get sick and some children will get seriously ill and stay sick for a long time, ”she said.

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