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Kansas City Hospitals See More Children With 'Long Haul' COVID-19 Symptoms

Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The University of Kansas has created a clinic specifically for children suffering from the lingering effects of COVID-19.

Beyond just lingering physical symptoms from COVID-19, children are experiencing the psychological effects of “just not being able to be kids.”

The University of Kansas Health System says adults are not the only ones showing up with lingering symptoms from COVID-19.

Doctors at KU said they are treating a group of children experiencing long-term effects from the virus. They've set up a “long-haul” clinic that connects pediatric patients with different treatments depending on their symptoms.

Those symptoms can include fatigue, headaches, brain fog, dizziness and shortness of breath.

“It's really targeted to their symptoms. So for kids who have fatigue and are having a hard time kind of getting back and moving again, a lot of it is focused on physical therapy and return back to normal activities,” said Dr. Brad Nelson, a KU pediatrician.

At the health system’s daily briefing Wednesday, Nelson said that he is following about 10 to 15 patients between 10 and 18 years of age with long-haul symptoms. In addition to the ongoing physical effects from COVID, they're also experiencing effects on their mental health, he said.

Children coming in with symptoms of depression and anxiety are put in touch with a psychologist or therapist. Nelson said not being able to go about their normal routines because of COVID takes a psychological toll on children.

“It's a very formative time in life for children. They are being socialized, they are learning all the things that they will need as an adult to be happy and healthy,” Nelson said. “So in addition to the health effects they're seeing, they're also seeing the psychological effects of just not being able to be kids.”

Nelson said symptoms seen in the younger population are very similar to those seen in adults with long- haul syndrome. While those symptoms haven't cropped up as frequently in children, he said that could change with the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

The variant has fueled rising hospitalizations at Kansas City's only pediatric hospital, Children’s Mercy, in recent weeks. Children's Mercy reached a record number of COVID-19 patients earlier this month, exceeding highs seen last winter.

Doctors at Children’s Mercy said that the surge of COVID patients and a recent spike in other pediatric illnesses have filled up their capacity. They said the numbers are now declining, but it's still the longest stretch they've experienced such high numbers.

“I don't think we're out of the woods yet. As we see more cases in the community, hospitalizations can follow and we may see more of an uptick,” said Dr. Jennifer Watts, the hospital's chief emergency management medical officer.

On Sunday, Northland parents filed a lawsuit aimed at striking down mask mandates in local school districts. The suit cited studies downplaying the impact of COVID on children.

Dr. Angela Myers, Children's Mercy’s division director of pediatric infectious diseases, said even a mild case of the virus can cause long-term conditions. One serious condition known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, or MIS-C, can develop four to six weeks after initial infection.

“We want to prevent infections because we want to prevent hospitalizations, and we want to prevent death. But we also want to prevent MIC-C, we also want to prevent long term COVID symptoms, which is more common in adults, but does also happen in kids,” Myers said at a briefing on Tuesday.

As children head back to school, Myers said the hospital is working with local school districts on safety measures to ensure students stay in the classroom this year.

Nelson said he believes it is safe for students to be in the classroom as long as they mask up and get vaccinated if they are older than 12. He anticipates the vaccine will be approved for younger children soon.

Those wanting to connect their child with the long-haul clinic at KU can contact the health system for a referral. Nelson said it isn't necessary to be a KU patient to do so, and most of the clinic's patients are not.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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