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Study suggests low but possible stroke risk for kids with COVID

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 23, 2022

Image supplied, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This illustration reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

Children who have been infected with COVID-19 have an increased risk of suffering a stroke, according to a new study published this week.

The study, conducted by researchers at University of Utah Health and published in the journal Pediatric Neurology, shows the overall risk of kids having a stroke after infection is low, but real.

“It may be that hyper-immune response that comes later that’s causing kids to clot,” said Dr. MaryGlen Vielleux, a pediatric neurology resident at U of U Health and lead author of the study. “Overall, kids have a relatively low risk for stroke, but there is a rare but real risk after COVID.”

In the early part of 2021, pediatric neurologists began noticing what appeared to be an increase in young stroke patients who were previously seemingly healthy. Questions arose concerning a possible connection to COVID or to the uptick in multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a known complication of COVID.

“If we see one kid with a stroke a month, that would be pretty typical,” said Dr. Joshua L. Bonkowsky, chief of the division of pediatric neurology at U of U Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. “We were seeing three cases a week for multiple weeks in a row.”

Stroke symptoms in children include weakness on one side of the body, an altered mental state and/or difficulty walking.

Pediatric stroke is very rare, so researchers weren’t able to conduct a large study. However, while looking at medical charts, they found 16 young patients who had an ischemic stroke between March 2020 and June 2021, which coincides shortly after the surge of pediatric COVID cases in the Mountain West region. All but five of the patients were tested for COVID antibodies. Nearly half tested positive. At the time of discharge, most of the 16 children had few lingering impacts from their stroke.

The data shows the overall number of strokes were significantly higher than what has been historically seen at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital. Over the past five years, approximately four strokes per year were diagnosed in children with unknown origin. In the first six months of 2021, 13 children were treated for strokes at the hospital with unknown origin. The data also shows kids who were asymptomatic from COVID can go on to experience serious complications such as stroke, Vielleux said.

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