Interview: Long-COVID in children is debilitating but there is hope, says Swedish specialist

Source: Xinhua| 2021-05-30 04:46:14|Editor: huaxia
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by Patrick Ekstrand

STOCKHOLM, May 29 (Xinhua) -- Children who have been infected with COVID-19 suffer with symptoms lasting for months. "One must prepare the family for the fact that the process can be very long, for many children up to one year," said Olof Hertting, a pediatric infectious disease researcher and consultant, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Working at the Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital in Stockholm, Hertting is at the frontline of the Swedish efforts to understand the mechanisms behind and treat post-COVID in children. So far, there is no treatment besides alleviating the symptoms.

"There is no specific medical treatment, but we treat the symptoms that occur in connection with long-COVID, such as headaches, nausea, sore throat, stomach pain, and rapid heart rate. Together with a psychologist, physiotherapist and occupational therapist, we support the child in his gradually increasing physical and mental strain," Hertting said.

The most common symptom is pronounced fatigue, he said. "This affects pretty much everyone we met at our reception. There are different types of fatigue but a common type is post-exertional malaise (PEM) which is fatigue that comes after only light to moderate activity and makes you need to rest for a long time afterward.

Physical symptoms aside, post-COVID often leads to other problems, Hertting said. "Schooling is often affected and could in the worst case lead to not being able to complete schooling according to plan. This creates a lot of stress in the young people which further aggravates the symptoms."

Even though the symptoms are well-documented, little is known about how many of the more than 166,000 individuals aged zero to 19 across the country who have been confirmed infected have sought medical care for lingering symptoms. There are official statistics, but these are extremely unreliable, Hertting said.

"Unfortunately, you cannot use these numbers. They are taken from diagnostic codes that have been used differently in different care facilities. We do not know today how many children or young people have been affected by long-COVID."

Individuals aged 11-17 seem to be most affected, Hertting said. "Also, girls seem to be affected more often but we do not know if they are affected worse. We hope that our research in this area will be able to answer that. The theory launched in adult care is that autoimmune conditions are more common in women and that there may be such a component in this."

Even though Hertting does not believe long-COVID in children and youth is likely to lead to a "lost generation," he said it caused those who are affected a lot of suffering.

"I think it is far too early to speculate, but my feeling is it is probably more about individuals who are hit very hard rather than a 'lost generation'."

Saying more research is needed, Hertting, however, has faith. "We believe that in the long run, the forecast is good, especially if you have previously been completely healthy. The biggest complication is the lack of social contexts for the child, such as absence from school and other social contexts such as leisure activities and sports."

"It's all about how we handle the pandemic. As the number of new infections decreases, long-COVID also decreases over time. So I see a bright future," he said. Enditem