Doctors launch new programs to help growing number of pediatric COVID 'long haulers'

Experts estimate anywhere from 10-30% of kids infected with COVID struggle with symptoms that can last for six months or longer. Now, doctors are taking a new approach to treat children with these debilitating long-haul symptoms.

Lisa Garcia of North Hollywood thought the first few weeks her 15-year-old-son, Lucas, had COVID-19 would be the worst.

"Healthy, happy one day and then within a matter of three days he needed 24-hour care," Garcia said.

It started with stomach issues. Garcia figured her healthy, high-achieving son would eventually bounce back completely. But several months later, Lucas was still dealing with debilitating headaches and fatigue.

"His ability to focus and concentrate, his cognitive abilities were impacted," she said.

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At the start of the pandemic, pediatric experts thought kids experienced COVID differently than adults.

"We were seeing a lot more of the gastrointestinal side effects," said Dr. Katharine Clouser with Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

But with the rise of variants, doctors say children now have similar symptoms to adults- fever, cough, headaches, difficulty breathing and extreme fatigue.

Up to one in three kids may be having trouble getting back to normal.

"What we are mainly seeing is kids who used to be really good in school, who are now struggling in school, kids who have trouble sleeping, who can't stay awake, or that athlete who's really having a hard time kind of returning to their level of activity, post the infection," Clouser added.

Treating long COVID symptoms requires various specialties that include pediatric pulmonologists, cardiologists, neurologists, rehab specialists and others who work together to treat a wide range of symptoms.

"We're doing things that help them to regain their stamina. So, if they've got headaches, chronic headaches, we may put them on migraine medication," said Clouser.

"Treatment may include changes in diet, changes in sleep, hygiene and changes in rest patterns," said Dr. Sindhu Mohandas with Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Mohandas is part of a National Institutes of Health trial looking at young long haulers. It's called the RECOVER study.

With her help, Lucas has been improving.

"My health has been doing so much better now," he said.

Studies show being vaccinated can reduce the risk of long-term symptoms.

While there are about 65 specialized COVID recovery centers for adults nationwide, there are only a handful of pediatric centers. The RECOVER study at CHLA study is now enrolling.
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