A: Sadly, yes. Though we don’t know exactly how many kids who had COVID-19 will have prolonged symptoms (often called Long Covid), Long Covid is possible even in kids who had mild or asymptomatic infections.
You might hear it called “Long Covid,” “Long Haul Covid,” or “Post-Covid Conditions.” All these names are talking about the same thing: symptoms that last more than 4 weeks after getting a COVID-19 infection. For some people, they can last for many months and have significant impacts on their lives. Long Covid is more likely to occur in adults but can happen in children too.
Just how many kids who had COVID-19 will have Long Covid is unclear, and research is ongoing. The estimates vary pretty dramatically, but many estimates are around 13% for children age 2 to 11 and 14% to children 12 to 16 years old. A recent preprint in the BMJ (link below!) found about 1 in 7 children may have symptoms 15 weeks after infection. This study looked at kids aged 11-17 and compared 3065 kids who had positive COVID-19 PCR test results and 3739 kids who had negative test results. They found that 30% of those who tested positive had at least 3 symptoms at 15 weeks while only 16% of kids who tested negative had 3 or more symptoms. You might be asking yourself, “Wait? Why would kids who tested negative have symptoms?” Good question! There are lots of reasons people report symptoms, including other illnesses, stress, lack of sleep, and so on. The takeaway is that there was a 14% difference in the COVID-19 positive group, suggesting prolonged symptoms are more likely after SARS-CoV-2 infection (the virus that causes COVID-19 illness). While this is just a preprint (which means we take all of this with a grain of salt), it is certainly concerning and consistent with earlier research.
The most common symptoms for children are fatigue, decreased physical endurance, trouble concentrating, cough, trouble breathing, pain, headache, and changes in taste or smell. Some kids will have symptoms that linger after the infection and others may develop news symptoms after they feel better. Children who have mild or even asymptomatic infections can develop Long Covid. The risk of Long Covid goes up as kids get older (check out the ONS data below) and it appears more likely for kids who had severe illness, like Multisystem Inflammation Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) or required hospitalization. We don’t yet know how long it will last and it likely is different for every child.
There are no specific tests to diagnose Long Covid. It is based on symptoms. The clinician looks for changes from the kiddo’s baseline (how they were feeling before the infection) and any other possible causes. Treatment is aimed at helping the symptoms feel better and can include medications (like for headaches or pain), therapies (like physical or occupational therapy), and other resources. Schools and treating clinicians can work together to help kids and families put in place any accommodations needed so that child can be successful. Kids might need additional mental health support too.
The best way to prevent Long Covid in kids is to prevent infection in the first place. In the US, children age 5 and up can get vaccinated (yay!!). You can check out our Q&A about vaccines for kids 5 to 11 here. We also need to keep going on those other measures to help prevent infection, like hand washing, wearing face masks, ensuring good ventilation or meeting outside, getting tested, and staying home when sick.
Stay Safe. Stay Sane.
Those Nerdy Girls