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NIH Launches Study on Long COVID-19 in Children

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases along with the Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. are launching a $40 million study on how COVID-19 affects long-term health issues and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) who have been infected with the virus.

According to Axios, this will be the largest study of its kind to examine why some children suffer more serious outcomes than others from the disease.

“This study will provide us with a critical missing piece of the puzzle,” said Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, an infectious disease specialist at Children’s National Hospital and the lead researcher of the study. Axios reports that more than 3.6 million American kids have tested positive for COVID-19 and there have been more than 2,800 cases of MIS-C diagnosed.

According to Good Morning America, the main signs of MIS-C are fever, impaired organ function, and a serious heart condition called cardiogenic shock, says Dr. Aine Cook, a Los Angeles-based pediatrician. She says that parents should seek immediate help if their child has “trouble breathing, persistent chest pain, difficulty staying awake, or has pale, blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds.”

Children seem to be fairly well protected from most of the severe symptoms of COVID-19 and the majority are either asymptomatic or have very mild reactions. However, according to published reports, nearly half of children who contract COVID-19 may have lasting symptoms.

Symptoms of what experts call long COVID-19 include fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headache, insomnia, respiratory problems, and heart palpitations. However, support groups report additional long-term symptoms, such as gastrointestinal upset, nausea, dizziness, seizures, and hallucinations.

So far, most of the long-term research has been conducted on adults, partly because it is harder to get ethical approval to study children, according to Dr. Natalie Lambert, an associate professor of medicine at the Indiana School of Medicine and an expert on COVID-19 symptoms.

According to Kaiser Health News, kids can become “long haulers,” just like adults and suffer long-term, debilitating effects from the disease. Pediatric hospitals are setting up clinics to help detect and treat these anomalies and offer a structured follow-up program for the affected children.

Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Ky., set up a special clinic to help children manage long-term symptoms after COVID-19. The clinic is designed for children and teens experiencing persistent side effects after a confirmed diagnosis.

“The COVID-19 Follow-up Clinic assesses the medical condition of children recovering from acute COVID-19 and determines if further testing or referral to a specialist is warranted,” said Dr. Gary S. Marshall, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Norton Children’s Hospital.

Marshall says in most children, COVID-19 is mild, and they recover without the need for ongoing treatment. However, for some, symptoms of extreme fatigue, body aches, headache and loss of smell or taste, may last for months after the infection.

The researchers in the NIH and Children’s National study hope to evaluate how the long-term impact of the virus on children affects their quality of life as well as the health of their lungs and heart. According to Axios, they also plan to investigate the role of genetics in the duration of immune response to COVID-19, as well as long COVID and MIS-C.

In the meantime, it appears that young moms are still reluctant to get their children vaccinated, according to a report. While vaccine hesitancy has decreased among parents since last winter, there are still wide gaps between parents of different genders and ages. For example, researchers found that young mothers and mothers with young children are still resistant to having their kids vaccinated or having schools mandate vaccinations. (Currently the COVID vaccines are only available to children ages 12 and older.) Parental support overall for school vaccine mandates rose 61%. The biggest gender gap was found in white parents. The survey found that only 10% of white fathers said they would not vaccinate their children compared to 28% of white mothers.

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