A recent study, published in BMJ Open, reveals that children and adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 continue to experience a wide range of symptoms for months after their initial infection. This research, conducted by a team at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, addresses a critical knowledge gap related to the COVID-19 pandemic: the persistence of symptoms in young patients and their impact on families.
Sarah Messiah, PhD, MPH, co-first author of the study and director of the Center for Pediatric Population Health at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health in Dallas, emphasizes the importance of this research: "This is one of the first qualitative studies in the literature documenting the unique experiences of children and their family’s following hospitalization for COVID-19. These findings add rich context to medical records and electronic health data, and can offer post-infection recovery efforts for children who have experienced severe COVID-19 disease.”
The research involved in-depth interviews with 25 parents of children and adolescents aged four months to 18 years, all of whom had been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and were still experiencing symptoms and post-COVID-19 conditions.
The team gained insight into how a child's COVID-19 diagnosis and long-term symptoms impacted the entire family by employing qualitative research methods. Their findings revealed that these families grappled with various challenges, such as navigating issues related to insurance coverage, accessing support systems, and managing the worsening of pre-existing health conditions, among other concerns.
Jackson Francis, co-first author, and research coordinator for the Center for Pediatric Population Health at UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, emphasizes the importance of combining qualitative and quantitative data: "To really tell the story of these children and their families, it was important not just to collect data points on symptoms recorded in the EHR. We wanted to know things outside of routinely collected medical data to learn about COVID-19's emotional, financial, and social impacts. By combining qualitative insights with quantitative data, we gained a broader understanding of the child's experience with COVID."
The researchers highlight that very little is currently known about chronic COVID-19 syndrome in pediatric patients. However, based on their findings, they are now better equipped to propose policy changes aimed at helping families navigate the effects of the disease and its long-lasting symptoms.
Additional authors include: Sitara Weerakoon, PhD, MPH, Sunil Mathew, MS, Apruva Veeraswam, BA, Weiheng He, MPH, Luyu Xie, PhD, Dhatri Polavarapu, BDS, MPH, and Nabila Ahmed, MBBS, MPH, with UTHealth Houston School of Public Health, Alejandra Lozano, BA, and Sumbul Shakih, BS, MS, with Children’s Health and Jeffery Kahn, MD, PhD, with University of Texas Southwestern.