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What Does COVID-19 Mean for Children with Cancer or Blood Disorders?

Children with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. There are several severe childhood illnesses that can compromise a child’s immune system.

COVID-19 and Children with Cancer

Children with cancer who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 are more at risk for severe illness, according to an August 2021 study.

This risk is particularly high for patients who have had a bone marrow transplant.

Most pediatric cancer patients do relatively well if they get COVID-19. But COVID-19 can be life-threatening.

If your child is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, ask your child's care team about it.

Study Shows Childhood Cancer Patients More at Risk for Severe COVID-19 Infection

The Global Registry of COVID-19 in Childhood Cancer was launched by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP). Results from the registry were published in The Lancet Oncology.

Key findings included:

  • Severe infections occurred in about 20% of children with cancer who have the virus compared to 1-6% of children overall.
  • Pediatric cancer patients were more likely to be hospitalized and die than other children. The study found that 65% of patients were hospitalized and 17% required admission or transfer to a higher level of care. It also showed that 4% of patients died due to COVID-19, compared to 0.01-0.7% mortality reported among general pediatric patients.
  • Cancer therapy was modified in 56% of patients, and 45% had chemotherapy withheld while their infection was treated.
  • These effects were observed more significantly in low- and middle-income countries. The odds of severe or critical disease from COVID-19 were nearly 6 times higher than in high-income countries.
 

COVID-19 and Bone Marrow Transplant

A study found that bone marrow transplant patients are at a high risk for severe illness due to COVID-19, even a year or more after a transplant.

Researchers studied 318 bone marrow transplant patients who developed COVID-19. COVID-19 survival was about 68% among bone marrow transplant patients. Survival was 95–99% in the general population.

COVID-19 and Children with Blood Disorders

All children with blood disorders are at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

Those at higher risk include:

  • Anyone with Sickle Cell Disease — COVID-19 can cause:
    • Fever
    • Recurrent painful crises
    • Severe pneumonia
    • Other lung problems
  • Those with immune disorders
  • Children who are immunocompromised for other reasons, including certain medicines

The vaccine is a safe, effective way to prevent COVID-19.

What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. It impacts:

  • Nose
  • Throat
  • Airways
  • Lungs

Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms. But some people can develop more serious problems like pneumonia.

Primary symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath, and sore throat.

Primary symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath, and sore throat.

What are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Body aches
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of the sense of smell or taste

Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms. Some people may not show any symptoms.

In some cases, people with COVID-19 become very ill. Warning signs of severe illness are:

  • Shortness of breath or problems breathing
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Blue lips or face
  • Confusion
  • Decreased alertness
  • Loss of consciousness

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) Associated with COVID-19

In very rare cases, children may develop a serious inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID-19. It is called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

This syndrome occurs in some children who have been infected with COVID-19 before. Children may develop the syndrome even if they did not have noticeable symptoms of COVID-19.

Signs and Symptoms of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children

Symptoms include:

  • Fever lasting at least 24 hours
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Sluggishness
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Skin rash
  • Eye redness
  • Red lips or tongue
  • Swollen hands and feet

Although the syndrome is very rare, MIS-C can damage:

  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Other organs

The condition can be life-threatening. Call your pediatrician immediately if you suspect MIS-C or notice symptoms.

 

What Should I Do if My Child is Immunocompromised?

If your child has a weak immune system, it is important to take steps to prevent illness. Call your doctor if your child has been exposed to the virus or has symptoms.

Wear a mask or face covering as your doctor recommends. If your child is immunocompromised, ask your care team about the type of mask needed and instructions for use.

Wear a mask or face covering as your doctor recommends. If your child is immunocompromised, ask your care team about the type of mask needed and instructions for use.

  • Everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • If your child is eligible, they should receive the vaccine but continue to use face mask and practice physical distance since the immune response to the vaccine may be reduced.
  • Talk to your doctor about the risk of COVID-19 and your child’s individual health needs.
  • Know what to do if symptoms develop. Call ahead before going to the doctor except in an emergency.
  • Make sure you have extra medicines and medical supplies on hand in case you must stay home due to quarantine. 
  • Your doctor may recommend waiting on some types of medical visits. Do not delay medical visits unless it is recommended by your doctor.
  • Reduce your risk of exposure by limiting travel, crowds, public places, and contact with people outside of your household.
  • Always wear a face mask when around others who do not live with you. Ask your doctor which type of mask is best and wear it correctly.
  • Keep a physical distance of at least 6 feet from others.
  • Wash hands often using soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Watch for symptoms.
  • Know warning signs that require emergency care.

Wear a mask or face covering as your doctor recommends. If your child is immunocompromised, ask your care team about the type of mask needed and instructions for use.

Key Points

  • Children with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19.
  • If you have questions about your child’s situation, talk to their care team.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine is a safe, effective way to prevent severe COVID-19.

 

More Information about Coronavirus and COVID-19

"Learn about the Coronavirus" Coloring Book

Download and print this coloring book for children. They can read about the coronavirus and COVID-19 and color the pages.

"Learn about the Coronavirus" Coloring Book
Download the Coronavirus Coloring Book

“Learn about the Coronavirus” Activity Book

Download and print this coloring book for older children. They can read about the coronavirus and COVID-19, color some pages, and work word puzzles.

“Learn about the Coronavirus” Activity Book
Download the Coronavirus Activity Book


Reviewed: February 2022