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Children with cancer who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 are more at risk for severe illness than children overall, 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. However, for some patients, COVID-19 can be life-threatening.
Patients and family members should take extra care to prevent exposure to the virus. If symptoms of COVID-19 develop, contact your doctor right away. If your child is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, ask your child's physician if your child should get it. COVID-19 vaccines are available for people 12 and older.
In general, cancer can lower immunity and make it harder to fight infection in different ways:
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). The registry gathers data on the pandemic’s effect on this unique patient population. Results from the registry were published August 26, 2021, in The Lancet Oncology.
Key findings included:
A study found that bone marrow transplant patients are at a particularly high risk for severe illness due to COVID-19.
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. The risk continued even a year or more after transplant.
Bone marrow transplant patients are encouraged to take extra care to prevent infection and to seek medical care at any sign of illness.
COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. It is a respiratory infection that is passed from person to person. A respiratory infection is an illness that affects the nose, throat, airways, or lungs. Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, like a cold or the flu. But some people can develop more serious problems like pneumonia.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common throughout the world. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus. The official name of the virus is SARS-CoV-2, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
COVID-19 can spread from close contact with an infected person. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or may possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
The virus may also be spread when a person touches a surface with the virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus may live on surfaces for a few days.
Anyone can get COVID-19. The illness is spread person-to-person. In other words, anyone can develop COVID-19 after coming in close contact with someone infected with the virus. The virus may also be spread when a person touches a surface with the virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness (like a cold or the flu) caused by a virus. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, chills, shortness of breath, body aches, runny nose, and loss of the sense of smell or taste. Symptoms usually develop 2-12 days after exposure to the virus.
Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms. Some people may have the virus and not show any symptoms at all.
In some cases, people with COVID-19 become very ill. COVID-19 can cause pneumonia, severe breathing problems, and even death. Warning signs of severe illness are:
Overall, children seem to be at lower risk for serious illness due to COVID-19 than adults. This does not mean that children don’t get COVID-19.
Although the highest risk for complications with COVID-19 is seen in children with chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, or people with weak immune systems, healthy children can also be hospitalized and have severe disease.
While the rate of COVID-19-associated hospitalization among children has been low compared with that of adults, hospitalization rates among children are increasing and have reached a new height because of the Delta variant. About 1 in 3 children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States were admitted to the intensive care unit, similar to the rate among adults.
In very rare cases, children may develop a serious inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID-19. This condition is known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). MIS-C is similar to Kawasaki disease. This syndrome occurs in some children who had a previous coronavirus infection. Children may develop the syndrome even if they did not have noticeable symptoms of COVID-19.
Signs and symptoms of pediatric multisystem inflammatory syndrome include:
Inflammation is a part of the normal immune response. In this syndrome, it appears that there is overactivation of the immune system. It is not known exactly why this occurs. However, children’s immune systems are naturally on alert and ready to fight new infections. If the immune response continues too long, it can cause inflammation and affect the blood vessels in many organs including the heart and kidneys.
Although the syndrome is very rare, MIS-C can damage the heart, kidneys, and other organs. The condition can be life-threatening, and prompt medical care is needed. Call your pediatrician immediately if you suspect MIS-C or observe any of its features, which develop weeks after the infection.
Several studies are reporting prolonged symptoms in children after mild COVID-19. This is a similar phenomenon to that observed in adults, and includes symptoms such as headache, fatigue, and heart palpitations. It is unclear at this point how common this is. Researchers are currently investigating this.
If your child has a weak immune system or chronic health condition, it is important to take steps to prevent illness. Contact your doctor if your child has been exposed to the virus or has symptoms of COVID-19.
Other ways to protect yourself and others from illness include:
Download and print this coloring book for children. They can read about the coronavirus and COVID-19 and color the pages.Download the Coronavirus Coloring 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.Download the Coronavirus Activity Book
Reviewed: August 2021