TAMPA, Fla. — Delaney DePue, 15, worked to follow precautions during the pandemic. But after following a small birthday party with a few friends she said she tested positive for COVID-19.
“It was like just all of our hearts just liked dropped,” the Florida teen said.
But nearly a year after her mild case, her recovery continues.
“It’s not just the flu, it’s really not,” she said.
She said she had lingering symptoms like a high heart rate, brain fog, fatigue and shortness of breath, which resulted in a diagnosis of COPD.
“I went from being able to do 20 hours a week of dance from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at night every day to not doing anything and just having to sit in bed and do school work,” DePue said.
While researchers are working to understand long COVID in adults, medical experts are paying attention to the impact for kids now, too.
“The long hauler issues yes we have seen it. We have few patients, several patients now,” said Dr. Claudia Espinosa, an assistant professor of pediatrics at USF Health and expert in pediatric infectious diseases.
She said patients come in with things like chronic fatigue, brain fog or headaches.
“We really don’t have a lot to offer to these patients. There is no cure yet, we are hoping that trials in adults give good results to see if we can expand to children but we have seen them mostly in children that are older than 11, 12 years of age. Especially teenagers. I have not seen them in younger children,” she said.
She said it’s a multidisciplinary effort.
“I can never tell them this is definitely going to get better but I can tell them once I have seen they get better,” she said.” I think that the most important thing is to bring recognition to tell parents and children these can happen. It’s a low rate the minority of the patients may have this but we need to be conscious this could happen to anyone.”
But there’s a lot to learn and research is just starting on the issue.
A study, not yet peer-reviewed, of almost 130 pediatric patients found after around 4 months nearly 42 percent completely recovered, about 36 percent 1-2 symptoms and nearly a quarter had at least 3 symptoms.
Another study of kids hospitalized in Russia found nearly a quarter reported persistent symptoms months after hospitalization and nearly 1 in 10 reported multiple symptoms.
Meanwhile, the NIH is working to understand how the coronavirus is affecting kids.
“We need to get to the bottom of what this is, define what the syndrome is and how to potentially get answers to treat it,” said Dr. Bill Kapogiannis.
He’s a physician and medical officer in the Maternal and Pediatric Infectious Diseases Branch at the NICHD.
“We had a lot of activity that went into trying to understand the severity of illness and what they predicted to then be able to treat children. So all of that started in late spring of last year and ramped up over the summer and has matured into a lot of expanding activities including not just on MIS-C but now this new enigma that has surfaced in adults that is now as we just said starting to be seen in children,” he said.
While Delaney’s back dancing, she’s still on the road to recovery.
“I’ll have like a good week, like a really solid week. Then I’ll have like a week where I might have to miss a class or two just because my body needs to rest,” she said.
Her message for others is to wear a mask to help protect others.