Although severe Covid-19 requiring hospitalization is generally rarer in children than in adults, a new study has shown that in children who are hospitalized with the virus, a significant number experience complications affecting the brain.
“We determined that neurologic complications are relatively common, occurring in about 8% of children hospitalized with Covid-19,” said James Antoon, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN and first author of the study.
In the new study published in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers looked at 15,137 children admitted to 52 different children’s hospitals between March 2020 and March 2022. The children ranged in age from 2 months to 18 years old. The most common neurological conditions reported were seizures, either with or without fever and encephalopathy – an umbrella term for brain damage. Other less common reported conditions were brain abscesses, bacterial meningitis and ischemic stroke.
“The complications are almost uniformly associated with worse outcomes and can be life-altering conditions,” said Antoon.
The scientists also found that younger patients were less likely than older children to experience neurological symptoms as a result of infection. Those infected during the time where the Delta variant was the predominant variant were also slightly less likely to experience neurological issues than those infected with other variants.
“As we found in our study, COVID-related complications can have a significant impact on the lives of children,” said Antoon. “With the emergence of new, highly contagious variants, the potential [number of] patients that are at risk is growing,” Antoon added.
Neurological symptoms have also been reported in adult patients with Covid-19. Additionally, some people with long Covid also report significant “brain fog,” fatigue and other neurological symptoms, and researchers have made progress on figuring out why this happens in some people, despite many of them only experiencing a mild Covid-19 infection initially.
Since mid-June, all children in the U.S. have been eligible for Covid-19 vaccination and although data for how good they are at preventing severe neurological complications is not yet available, Antoon stresses the importance of vaccination for children.
“Our findings emphasize the importance of vaccination and prevention of Covid-19 in children in order to prevent these potentially life-threating complications,” said Antoon.