covid symptoms

COVID Symptoms in Children: Signs to Watch as Officials Warn Kids Getting Hit Hard by Virus

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children experience similar symptoms to adults

Children wearing face masks
Sasi Ponchaisang/EyeEm via Getty Images

As Chicago-area health officials warn people under the age of 20 are being especially hard-hit by the virus, many parents are likely wondering what symptoms they should be aware of in children and teens.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children have similar symptoms to adults, and in many cases experience milder illness.

"While children are as likely to get COVID-19 as adults, kids are less likely to become severely ill," the Mayo Clinic reports. "Up to 50% of children and adolescents might have COVID-19 with no symptoms. However, some children with COVID-19 need to be hospitalized, treated in the intensive care unit or placed on a ventilator to help them breathe."

Hospitalizations of children were on the rise during the omicron surge that swept the nation earlier this year. Earlier this year, some Chicago hospitals reported their highest rates since the pandemic began, with even more than the delta surge.

Many hospitalizations, however, have not not required intensive care and have been in the unvaccinated or those too young to be vaccinated.

In addition, Mayo Clinic says babies under the age of 1 might be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID than older children.

The symptoms present in children, like adults, can vary from several to none at all.

The most common symptoms in kids are cough and a fever, according to Mayor Clinic. Possible symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough that becomes productive
  • Chest pain
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Changes in the skin, such as discolored areas on the feet and hands
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea, vomiting, belly pain or diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Extreme fatigue
  • New severe headache
  • New nasal congestion

For some children, COVID is only the beginning as some have been diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome following their infections.

"Evidence indicates that many of these children were infected with the COVID-19 virus in the past, as shown by positive antibody test results, suggesting that MIS-C is caused by an excessive immune response related to COVID-19," the Mayo Clinic reported.

MIS-C severely inflames certain organs and tissues, including the heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys, digestive system, brain, skin or eyes.

Possible symptoms of this condition include:

  • Fever that lasts 24 hours or longer
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Skin rash
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Red eyes
  • Redness or swelling of the lips and tongue
  • Feeling unusually tired
  • Redness or swelling of the hands or feet
  • Headache, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Emergency warning signs of MIS-C include:

  • Inability to wake up or stay awake
  • Difficulty breathing
  • New confusion
  • Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds — depending on skin tone
  • Severe stomach pain

As for so-called "long-hauler COVID" or "long COVID," some children could also develop longer-lasting symptoms.

According to the CDC, the condition appears less likely in children and adolescents, but some cases have been reported.

"The most common symptoms reported have been tiredness or fatigue, headache, trouble sleeping (insomnia), trouble concentrating, muscle and joint pain, and cough," the CDC reports.

Currently, children ages 5 and older are eligible to receive Pfizer's COVID vaccine - leaving 18 million younger tots unprotected. The Pfizer vaccine is currently the only treatment authorized in the US for children between the ages of 5 and 17.

Pfizer now hopes to tell U.S. regulators how well its COVID vaccine works in the youngest children by late May or early June.

Pfizer is testing three extra-small doses of its vaccine in children under 5 after two shots didn't prove quite strong enough. Initial results had been expected last month but the company laid out the latest timeline Tuesday during its discussion of quarterly financial results.

Previous data showed two doses of the Pfizer COVID vaccine offer almost no protection against coronavirus infection in kids ages 5 to 11, but did offer protection against serious illness.

The Pfizer shots still offered protection against serious illness from COVID, the researchers found, with protection against hospitalization declining to 48% from 100% over the same time period.

In much welcome news for some parents, Moderna has said its COVID vaccine generated a strong immune response and was generally well-tolerated in kids ages 6 months up to 6 years.

Moderna last week asked U.S. regulators to authorize low doses of its COVID vaccine for children younger than 6, a long-awaited move toward potentially opening shots for millions by summer.

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