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Long COVID risk higher in unvaccinated children, U.S. study finds

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A small study is adding to evidence that children can develop long COVID-19 even if the virus did not make them seriously ill.

Researchers in Texas who tracked 1,813 children infected with the virus between October 2020 and May 2022 – during the waves of the Delta and Omicron coronavirus variants – found that 4.5% had symptoms for up to 12 weeks and 3.3% had symptoms for longer than 12 weeks.

The risk for persistent symptoms – loss of taste and smell, cough and difficulty breathing – was highest in children sick enough from COVID-19 to be hospitalized. But 93% of those with long COVID had reported only mild to moderate illness when initially infected, according to the study published in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.

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The risk was highest for children infected earlier in the pandemic, before vaccines were available, the researchers said. Most of the children with long COVID had not been vaccinated, they found.

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“There may be a perception that one needs to be hospitalized to have long COVID, and that is not what we found. I encourage parents to still take caution and get their child vaccinated against COVID-19, because we now know that it will decrease the risk of infection and long COVID,” study leader Sarah Messiah of the University of Texas said in a news release.

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