Children can get Long Covid, too
A 2022 review in the journal Nature showed that 25.3% of children had ongoing symptoms after having Covid-19. A more recent study in the Omiron era showed that 12.1% of children and young people infected for the first time and 16.1% of those reinfected met the definition of Long Covid at both 3 and 6 months after infection.
While the numbers vary, it’s clear that Long Covid has a significant impact on children in New Zealand and overseas.
Children have similar symptoms to adults, including unrelenting fatigue, post-exertional malaise (PEM), headaches, dizziness (often from POTS symptoms), and aches and pains. In particular, younger children may complain of a sore stomach, rashes or a lingering runny nose and cough. Long Covid can also affect their nervous system, resulting in feelings of anxiety. Some children go on to develop PANDAS (paediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder), which is inflammation in the brain that can affect behaviour. Covid-19 in children is also associated with a rare, delayed hyperinflammatory response known as either MISC (Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children) or PIMS-TS (Paediatric inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2).
When visiting the GP, take a list of symptoms and how they are impacting your child. What activities have they dropped? How are they coping with school?
It’s possible that Long Covid may be confused with anxiety or depression, particularly if the symptoms of POTS are unrecognised. You may need to clarify with your doctor that this is not the case.
As with adults, there are currently no cures for Long Covid. But there may be treatments that help with specific symptoms. For example, beta-blockers may be given for POTS, or anti-nausea pills for nausea.
Teaching a child how to rest and pace is essential. Some parents find giving their child a smartwatch can help the child understand when they need to rest and when their heart rate is too high.
It’s essential to listen to children and not expect them to push through symptoms, just as adults shouldn’t. Accommodations may need to be made at school: some children might have extended time off, or attend part-time. Building a good relationship with your child’s teacher is important.
Looking after children’s mental health is really important, as they will be missing out on their usual activities and fun with friends. This can be particularly hard for teenagers, who may feel left out at a time when they should be spreading their wings.
Talking to your children and teens about acceptance, patience, gratitude and hope can help while allowing them to express their feelings and grieve. Let your child know it’s normal to feel sad and angry, and it helps to talk about it. Normalising discussions around emotions and mental health will make it easier to discuss issues if they come up.
Some children or young people may need counselling support to help them create coping strategies, so talk to your GP about options. I am Hope (Gumboot Friday) offers two free counselling sessions for children and young people, which can be a lifeline if they need to wait for other services.
Having a child with Long Covid can be very challenging, but support is available. Long Covid Kids is an international charity that provides support and resources for parents of children with Long Covid. The website and support guide contain lots of useful information, including tips on pacing and working with your child’s school. There is also a New Zealand Facebook support group where parents can ask questions, share experiences and support each other.