Can children contract a “long COVID” after coronavirus infections?
Yes, but studies show they are less likely than adults to be affected by symptoms that persist, come back, or start a month or more after infection.
Estimates vary on how often symptoms known as COVID-19 long occur in children. A recently published UK study found that around 4% of young children and adolescents showed symptoms more than a month after being infected. Fatigue, headaches, and loss of smell were among the most common complaints, and most were gone after two months.
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Cough, chest pain, and brain fog are some of the other long-term symptoms that are sometimes found in children and can occur even after mild infections or no initial symptoms.
Some studies found higher rates of persistent symptoms than in the UK study, but children are believed to be affected less often than adults. About 30% of adult patients with COVID-19 develop long-term symptoms, by some estimates.
Experts are not sure exactly what causes the symptoms in the long run. In some cases, this could reflect organ damage caused by the initial infection. Or it could be the result of the virus and the persistent inflammation in the body.
Children can develop other rare problems after an initial coronavirus infection, including inflammation of the heart or a condition known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome. It involves fever and inflammation affecting different parts of the body, among other possible symptoms. Children with the condition usually require hospitalization, but most recover. A similar condition can occur in adults.
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The rapid spread of the highly contagious delta variant is causing some doctors to worry that more children may be at risk for long-term COVID-19 and these other conditions.
Because of the potential for long-term consequences, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends follow-up medical visits after children have recovered from an initial coronavirus infection.