When Desiree McCue first noticed mysterious marks on her teenage daughter last March, she thought it was some kind of rash.
“She was also vomiting and had headaches, so we reached out to her doctor,” the Scarborough, Ont., mother said.
“He said that it wasn’t rashing, it was bruising showing up all over her chest, her neck, her shoulders, her face.”
The bruising is just one of several strange symptoms with which 15-year-old Kayleigh McCue has been struggling for months — suspected symptoms of long COVID following an infection of the virus last fall.
“I was really active before this, but now I don’t feel like doing anything. I just want to sleep,” Kayleigh McCue said.
Illnesses related to COVID-19 have typically been less severe for children over the last year and a half, but while serious disease is rare, some children have become very sick.
“We do still see some children, uncommonly, who do become severely unwell, sometimes during the acute illness but sometimes almost more commonly afterward when they develop this inflammatory syndrome called multi-system inflammatory of children (MIS-C) which can result in critical illness,” said Dr. Stephen Freedman, a COVID-19 researcher and a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
Freedman says there have been at least 40 cases of MIS-C in Alberta. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded more than 4000 cases as of June 1, 2021.
Seven-year-old Hunter McConnell of Calgary was diagnosed with MIS-C earlier this year.
“He spent three days in the ICU, a couple days on the other unit and he’s still being followed by cardiology and infectious disease,” Hunter’s mother, Tanyss McConnell, said.
“We’re very lucky so far there is no lasting side effects.”
While rare, Dr. Freedman says he expects to see more cases of MIS-C and long COVID in kids if the Delta variant fuels a fourth wave this fall.
“With the fact that the Delta variant is more contagious than almost every virus we’ve dealt with in recent memory — with the exception of measles — we expect it to spread very quickly through the unvaccinated populations of children,” Dr. Freedman said.
Dr. Freedman says he is particularly concerned about children in his home province of Alberta, where many COVID-19 mitigation measures, including masking in schools, are ending.
“In the absence of mitigation measures including masks and hand hygiene, we know that the Delta variant will spread across the classroom very rapidly,” he said
Dr. Tony Moody, an infectious diseases physician and researcher at Duke University in Durham, N.C., supports masks in schools this fall as well.
Moody says parts of the U.S are seeing more children in hospital with severe illness related to COVID-19 than previous waves. States like Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida and Arkansas are battling a rising tide of children testing positive for COVID-19 and needing hospitalization as well as breathing support in some cases.
“It’s a little difficult to say if the increased number of children that we’re seeing being admitted with complications of COVID is due to something about Delta intrinsically, or is it due simply to the fact that Delta is such a contagious virus that we’re now seeing more cases,” Moody said.
Children 12 and under make up most of Canada’s unvaccinated population. No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved yet for use in this population, though clinical trials are underway with results expected by the end of the year.
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