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“So Tired:” Long-term health risks for children increase as spread of COVID increases in Alberta

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Keaton Louttit, 13, caught the UK variant of COVID-19 in April, striking him with three days of high fever, fatigue and severe headaches.

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After 10 days, most of the symptoms disappeared with the exception of the fatigue which has haunted him ever since.

“I used to be a lot more energetic and involved in things like family walks,” he told Postmedia. “Now I won’t do them because I’m just too tired. Sometimes I don’t feel like going out with my friends because I’m so tired.

He was vaccinated in July, but it did not alleviate his fatigue.

“I zonate in class (at school). I wouldn’t realize what we just did during the lesson, ”he said.

Katie Loutitt chats with her son Keaton Loutitt, 13, on the front porch of their home in St. Albert on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Keaton is suffering the effects of long-term COVID-19.  Photo by David Bloom
Katie Loutitt chats with her son Keaton Loutitt, 13, on the front porch of their home in St. Albert on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Keaton is suffering the effects of long-term COVID-19. Photo by David Bloom Photo by David Bloom David Bloom /David Bloom / Postmedia

Her family doctor told Keaton’s mother, Katie Louttit, that her condition is very similar to what some adult patients experience months after being diagnosed with COVID. Persistent headaches, insomnia, weakness, and memory loss can last for months and are known as Long COVID.

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“(The doctor) is concerned about his mental health,” Katie said. “She set up counseling with the Edmonton COVID-19 Rapid Response Collaborative. It’s so heartbreaking to see him no longer be himself.

As COVID-19 infections continue to break records in Alberta, some medical experts are concerned about the future health impacts of young residents like Keaton.

Increase in COVID infections in children

New cases in children aged 0 to nine have been increasing every week since mid-July, according to data from Alberta Health. There were 31 cases in this age group the week of July 12-18, then they dropped to 90 the following week and have been steadily increasing since. Infections for this age group topped 1,100 cases each week from September 6 to 12.

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For the period September 22-28 – the most recent data available – there were 1,821 cases in children 0-9 years old, including 1,224 in the five to nine age group.

Children aged five to 11 currently have the highest infection rate, on a seven-day moving average, of any age group in Alberta, with 68.57 cases per 100,000 population.

Hospitalizations are lower than infections and 54 children aged 0-9 have been hospitalized since mid-July, with eight intensive care admissions. There were 34 hospitalizations in September alone.

The numbers are expected to increase

Fifty-four children sent to hospital is 54 too many, said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, pediatrician and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta.

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“It’s just not acceptable,” she said. “(COVID-19) can be mitigated with simple public health measures. We do not allow 54 children to be hospitalized for measles because they are not supposed to get measles. Being hospitalized for a child is traumatic for him and his family, and we don’t yet know the long-term effects (of COVID). “

Ladha fears hospitalizations may increase, as children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated and contact tracing and contact isolation were suspended by the provincial government this summer.

Edmonton Public Schools have implemented its own measures such as mandatory masking and notifying parents of positive cases of COVID in classrooms.

The Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB), in urging the government to reintroduce contact tracing, reported this week that there have been outbreaks of COVID in 12 of its schools. In an update on his website Thursday, he said there were 631 self-reported coronavirus cases, a number he said is actually higher.

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Threat of post-COVID complications

As cases increase, Ladha is worried about what will happen weeks after children are diagnosed with COVID.

“To diagnose Long COVID, you need to know that they had COVID, which is difficult because sometimes they are asymptomatic. I don’t think there is any deliberate collection on the number of these patients (in Alberta), ”she said. “We are relying on (international) studies that have collected this data.”

Studies show a range of prevalence with Long COVID.

At the high end, data released by the UK’s Office of National Statistics in April found a rate of 9.8% among children aged two to 11 and 13% among children aged 12 to 16-year-olds who had at least one persistent symptom five weeks after a positive COVID diagnosis.

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At the bottom of the scale, a UK preprint study in May showed that out of 1,700 schoolchildren who tested positive for COVID, 4.4% suffered from headaches, fatigue and loss of smell during at at least four weeks; and 1.6 percent had symptoms for at least eight weeks.

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) can appear a month or two after infection with COVID and causes high fevers and potential inflammation of internal organs.

Ladha hasn’t seen a case of MIS-C in her own practice because she works mainly in outpatient clinics, but she cited research published this year in the European Journal of Medical and Pharmacological Sciences showing a prevalence of MIS. -C 6.2 percent in hospital patients in China.

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Another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2020, showed a much lower rate of 2.1 cases per 100,000 in the study sample in New York State. MIS-C was found to be higher in black children aged 6 to 12.

MIS-C is treatable in hospital and the death rate is low, Ladha said. The problem is treating MIS-C amid a wave of COVID patients in hospitals.

“We have redeployed pediatric staff to adult intensive care units so that they can manage COVID patients. If we continue to let COVID pass through children, we will see an increase in the rates of MIS-C (and) an increase in the number of children in hospital and intensive care. If MIS-C grows, we will be seriously short of capacity.

There are 45 pediatric intensive care (PICU) beds spread between Edmonton and Calgary, said Kerry Williamson, spokesperson for Alberta Health Services. Twenty-seven are currently occupied. For adults, there are 373 intensive care beds, including 200 surge spaces.

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Ladha stresses that it is time to reinstate safety checks to reduce the spread in the community and infections among children.

“Do we want to risk our pediatric population and see if 10% have long-term debilitating symptoms? Or do we want to put measures in place to prevent further spread? “

The light at the end of the tunnel

Malgorzata Gasperowicz, general associate in the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Nursing and developmental biologist, believes vaccines for children under 12 hold hope, but they should be rolled out alongside measures to public health to maximize protection.

Pfizer announced on September 20 that its vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 is effective and hopes to start vaccines by the end of October.

As a model that Alberta could follow, Gasperowicz pointed to the Atlantic provinces, where closed borders, mandatory quarantines and lockdowns slowed the spread of COVID while infections and hospitalizations were higher in the rest of the country. Canada.

“Their restrictions protected the entire population, including children, and with hospitalizations and deaths, the Atlantic provinces had very low numbers,” Gasperowicz said. “Prince Edward Island tests more per capita than we do. They can track it and eliminate it quickly.

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