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VCU study aims to learn how COVID affects children in the long term

VCU study aims to learn how COVID affects children in the long term
Posted at 6:52 PM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 18:52:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Two VCU researchers are taking part in a national study on the effects of Long COVID on children and the study is seeking families in Virginia to participate, whether or not someone in the household has contracted the virus.

Dr. Patricia Kinser and Dr. Amy Salisbury are conducting research as part of the LEGACI study, a nationwide examination of the neurocognitive and genomic implications for kids and their families dealing with Long COVID.

“Not only what is the incidence or prevalence of Long COVID, these long-term effects of COVID, but also understanding more closely who is being affected and why,” Dr. Kinser said.

“Children, now I think, are seeing a bigger impact because of the delta variant. We’re looking at a smaller portion of children who are infected, but when they are affected, the implications are much larger than we ever thought,” Dr. Salisbury said.

Both researchers are part of the VCU School of Nursing. The study is part of a number of initiatives supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that examine the long-term ramifications of COVID-19.

The researcher in the LEGACI study will be collecting health, genomic and mental evaluations to help determine if there are determining factors for Long COVID, like family genetics, and how the fallout from the symptoms impacts a child’s development.

“We want to know holistically what’s going on for these families, for these children,” Dr. Kinser said. “The long term loss of smell and taste and all of those things we’re hearing about, but the mental health impact is significant, especially in children who are developing.”

“I think we’ve seen the mental health implications of COVID are enormous at all age groups,” Dr. Salisbury said.

Long COVID is described as “a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems people can experience four or more weeks after first being infected” with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Symptoms include pain, headaches, fatigue, “brain fog,” shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, fever, chronic cough and sleep problems.

Dr. Kinser and Dr. Salisbury said these conditions, particularly brain fog or trouble focusing, have a detrimental impact on a child’s ability to learn and develop socially.

“By looking more closely, doing these closer assessments of heart function, lung function, brain function, neurocognitive development, they will help understand what’s going on there,” Dr. Kinser said.

Any family can participate if they live within a few hours' drive of Richmond. The research team is building a specialty van, complete with an EKG machine and other scanning devices, so they conduct their assessments at someone’s home or in a community space in order to make the process easier on families.

The team is also looking for families who did not have a positive COVID case to help serve as control and to further study the mental health implications of the pandemic.

Interested parties can sign up through their website and will be enrolled within the year. Already, Dr. Kinser and Dr. Salisbury said families have contacted them wanting to take part.

“I think the quote was, ‘You are finally a light for me I haven’t had in a year because my teenager had COVID and is now struggling with this prolonged depression that he can’t dig out of,” Dr. Kinser said. “For this mother, it was maybe we can’t understand what’s going on with my child right now, but we can contribute to this work and help ourselves and other families. I think a lot of families are very excited about being able to be a part of that.”