Chandra Pasma and her husband first came down with a fever, sore throat, and dry cough in mid-March. Afterward, the Ottawa mother’s seven-year-old twins, Clara and Luc, followed suit with severe cough, chest pain, abdominal cramps, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and fatigue. Mira, their nine-year-old daughter, seemed to fare better with only a mild fever and sore throat.
In a couple of weeks, Pasma said they thought they had recovered as their initial symptoms had abated.
Since March, the family experienced varying and sometimes debilitating symptoms that would appear and disappear. Luc coughed for 12 straight weeks while Clara was often left gasping for breath for 18 weeks. They also had recurring bouts of chest pain, fatigue, and nausea, and Pasma felt like nothing worked for the longest time. In the following weeks, even Mira experienced different relapses of fever and sore throat and came down with new symptoms, such as skin rashes, mouth sores, headaches, and blocked lymph nodes.
The family wasn’t eligible for testing when they first developed symptoms as they hadn’t traveled outside the country. They later learned that they might have been exposed to the virus at their children’s bus stop as a person who also regularly waited there had tested positive for the disease. Even though Pasma and her youngest daughter received negative results when they were finally tested weeks after their initial illness, their family doctor had also told them they were probable COVID-19 cases based on their symptoms.
In recent months, the similar experiences of children have been largely left out of the conversation. Experts say that since the majority of younger people appear to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms if they do contract the virus, their long-term symptoms are rarer than in adults. Pasma indicated that the disease could affect all ages with varying degrees of severity. Pasma also noted that people know how dangerous this illness can be and that it doesn’t mean that kids won’t be sick for a very long time or that there might not be some permanent damage caused to their bodies even if the risk of severe illness and death in kids is lower than for adults.
‘IT’S REALLY SCARY’
A similar experience happened to Sherri Godby in the past few months with her three children. She thought they might have contracted the coronavirus in March when a friend fell ill. Since March, Godby’s 10-year-old foster son, Kaden, has had a particularly difficult time with the symptoms he’s experienced on-and-off again. It started with a rash all over his upper torso and arms, and in April, he complained of pain in his feet when he tried to kick a ball. His toes were purple and red, inflamed, and blistered. Kaden was told he likely had “COVID toes,” after being taken to hospital. Godby said that after approximately two months, the lesions on Kaden’s toes eventually disappeared. However, he still had a rash on his upper body and arms and was vomiting and had diarrhea.
Audet believes she and her husband and two daughters contracted coronavirus in February while they were on a trip to Las Vegas and Arizona. She said they all experienced symptoms in early March when they returned to their home in Thunder Bay, Ont. Like Pasma and Godby, her family never tested positive for COVID-19 even though a health-care professional with Ontario’s public health Telehealth phone service told her they should be considered the presumptive case. In March, Chloe had relatively mild symptoms of fatigue, chest pressure, sore eyes, and intermittent nausea while Laina only had some sniffles and sore eyes. Audet said her 14-year-old daughter’s nausea returned a month-and-a-half later, together with some new symptoms.
FOCUSING ON CHILDREN
Dr. Iris Gorfinkel stated that it is still not clear why some children may experience post-COVID-19 symptoms for long periods. Just like in grown-ups, there could be many explanations for why children may also have waves of new symptoms after some time. Gorfinkel confirmed that there could be long-term problems as the virus could be causing direct damage to the body’s organs. She also said that the virus incites an immune condition for the body to produce antibodies that fight the disease, and this causes a chronic autoimmune problem. Iris is a family physician and medical researcher in Toronto.
Gorfinkel said that they would be able to understand more about the disease’s impact on children as time goes on. She added that we need to take a hard look at what’s going to be the pediatric consequences, and what’s going to happen in this space. Gorfinkel added that serologic data has revealed that older children between the ages of 10 to 19 years of age seem to have the same antibody response to the virus as those aged 20 to 49, which means that older children can experience more severe, and long-term symptoms of the disease than younger ones. Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Toronto, agreed that adults are far more likely to experience chronic post-COVID-19 symptoms than children.
Banerji also indicated that since children’s risk for long-term symptoms is low, parents shouldn’t be afraid to send their children back to school. She indicated that people need to get the kids back to school because, in comparison to the extremely low risk of having some of the chronic symptoms related to COVID, there’s real harm being done to children, especially mental health. Pasma, too stated that she wants her children to return to school in the fall even after her own family struggles with illness as it will be beneficial to their overall well-being.