Chapel Hill, North Carolina — While some children recover quickly from COVID, with some showing no symptoms at all, other children struggle with prolonged COVID. For them, the symptoms can last for a month or more and affect everything from their mood to their mobility.
WRAL’s Data Trackers examined “Long-Haul COVID” and its impact on children.
The cause of long-haul COVID is still a mystery. Doctors say more than 10% of COVID-19 survivors will experience persistent symptoms, including young children.
Patients have traveled from New York and Florida for treatment at UNC’s COVID Recovery Clinic.
Wednesday Lynch, aged 13, has suffered from extreme fatigue for 14 consecutive months.
“To the point where she would fall asleep if she lay on the floor to pet the dog,” said her mother Melissa Lynch. “She couldn’t stay awake long for virtual classes.”
The once-active cheerleader has relapsed 26 times and has developed bumps and rashes — and even seizures.
“It took a lot out of her both physically and mentally,” Lynch said.
“Long Covid” is generally defined as symptoms that last longer than one to three months. In many cases, the fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and memory loss last even longer.
“Early data suggests that people with more severe initial illness are at higher risk of developing persistent symptoms or long-term COVID,” says Dr. John Baratta, co-director of the UNC COVID Recovery Clinic.
The clinic has treated 600 long-haul carriers this year. A majority are women, between the ages of 30 and 60.
When asked why women are more likely to experience long-term COVID, Baratta said: “One theory is that long-term COVID could be caused by an immune or inflammatory condition, and sometimes women may be at higher risk for that to begin with. .”
A study of more than 1,700 school-age children found:
- 77 children (4%) had symptoms for more than 28 days
- 25 children (1%) had symptoms after 56 days
- 12- to 17-year-olds were at higher risk of long-term COVID than younger children aged 5 to 11
“High school, high school and elementary school students are unfortunately struggling with their normal school day because of the symptoms they still have,” Baratta said.
WRAL’s Data Trackers found that in the past month, there were 13,000 COVID cases among children 17 and under — that’s about 26% of all cases.
Last week, children ages 5 to 11 were eligible for vaccination.
Lynch, who has watched her daughter struggle with prolonged COVID, has a message for parents who are hesitant to get their children vaccinated: “The benefits outweigh the risks.”
More than 99% of the long-haul carriers treated at UNC had not been vaccinated when they arrived.
Baratta says there is some research supporting vaccination — even after infection — could help reduce symptoms of long-term COVID.