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Los Angeles hospital receives grant to study long covid in children

Dr. John Wood of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and USC’s Keck School of Medicine shares research goals on the lasting impact covid-19 has on youth.

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COLBY MARTIN: Doctors at Keck School of Medicine of USC are part of an $8 million grant to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. This was awarded to study the long term effects of COVID in children. Dr. John Wood is the director of Cardiovascular MRI at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He joins us now to talk about the new research. Dr. Wood, thank you for joining us. Before we hear specifically about your research in this area, I just want to say it does seem that children and young people have been terribly affected by COVID over the last year. What are you seeing, and how worrisome is this?

DR. JOHN WOOD: Well, obviously, kids in general do better than the adults with COVID, but this first came to our attention because we saw a sudden uptick of problems with the coronary arteries, the arteries that actually supply the muscle of the heart starting shortly after the first COVID infection. And then later, we noticed that children with several weeks following their initial COVID infection were coming in and actually ending up in the intensive care unit with evidence of poor heart function, elevated heart enzymes which are a marker of heart damage, and even one or two deaths.

COLBY MARTIN: Wow, that’s very stark, and I know that especially during these times, it’s really tough to handle the gravity of the situation still, even a couple of years after how impactful COVID has been. Now, right now there’s a lot of mystery about the after effects of COVID-19 still, and especially these long term effects. What do you think we might see down the road? What might be the long term effects of COVID?

DR. JOHN WOOD: Well, we still don’t know. Fortunately, most children do not experience long term effects of COVID, but a minority, maybe five to 15 percent, are experiencing problems with fatigue, confusion, sort of brain fog sluggishness, some shortness of breath, some get dizzy when they change position. We don’t yet know how long these symptoms are going to last and are still trying to figure out exactly what’s causing them.

COLBY MARTIN: You look for the most effective ways to treat the serious consequences of COVID in children and young adults. Do we have any leads currently at this moment? And if so, what do you think might pan out?

DR. JOHN WOOD: Yes, I don’t think we do. In fact, the main focus of this research is really to characterize the nature and depth of the problem, because until we know that, we can’t even begin to target therapies. So it’s really too early to say that we have the answers or we have the medicines, we still actually need to understand the scope and gravity of the situation.

COLBY MARTIN: Now I’ve heard that experts are concerned that long COVID, as it’s called, could cause a future public health crisis people might experience later down the road. Headaches, fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, palpitations and even sleep disorders. Could you address these fears, please?

DR. JOHN WOOD: Well, we certainly are seeing kids who are affected by all of those symptoms, and we don’t know at this point whether this is something that will resolve over, you know, months to a year or whether this is something that will have an impact for a longer horizon. And that’s really the purpose of the NIH Recover initiative is to capture a cohort of kids and follow them for up to four or five years. So I wish I could tell you one way or the other, but we just don’t have the information yet.

COLBY MARTIN: Dr Wood and his colleagues at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and other area hospitals will study tens of thousands of people to learn what we can about the long term effects of COVID. Dr Wood, thank you very much for joining us on Annenberg Media. I really appreciate it.

DR. JOHN WOOD: Thank you.