Yale New Haven Children's Hospital is the latest provider to specifically focus on treating long-term health complications from COVID-19.
The hospital opened a new comprehensive care program within its Pediatric Specialty Center to provide a patient-centered approach for children experiencing lingering COVID-19 symptoms.
The program is set to create a clinical specialist network in one setting to give children easier access to treatment, according to Rebecca Ciaburri, associate director of quality, safety and program development for Yale New Haven Children's.
The program will include five pediatric specialties: cardiology, pulmonology, rheumatology, infectious disease and neurology. Children will be able to see any of those specialists in one visit to provide a more coordinated, team-based approach to more common, lingering COVID-19 symptoms. Patients will also have access to behavioral health supports that will be integrated within the program.
"This program was developed in direct response to the needs we are seeing in our patients as well as hearing from their parents and pediatricians in our community," Ciaburri said.
Most long-term COVID symptoms are mild and subside after a couple of weeks. But some children have experienced health issues like shortness of breath, chest tightness, fatigue headaches and muscle pains and aches that lasted months after testing positive for the illness. Some children with COVID-19 have reportedly developed a rare, dangerous disorder known as multi-system inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, which causes severe inflammation to vital organs.
It is currently not known exactly what proportion of children who contract COVID-19 experience "long COVID." Informal figures reported in January by the UK government's Office for National Statistics found nearly 13% of children ages two to 11 and 14.5% of young people ages 12 to 16 who tested positive for COVID-19 reported having at least one symptom five weeks after getting infected.
A report released last month by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children's Hospital Association found that as of May 20, nearly four million children in the U.S. had tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. About 40,000 new cases were reported the week prior to May 20, according to the report, marking the lowest number of weekly cases since last October.
While children have made up a relatively small share of COVID cases, recent evidence shows they are a growing proportion of new cases. Children have represented roughly 14% of total cases since the pandemic began but accounted for nearly 20% or the week ending May 20, according to the AAP-CHA report.
"While we are paying very close to attention to this, having a comprehensive approach to supporting these patients is a key strategy in us being able to better understand its impact," Ciaburri said. "Children are incredibly resilient, and we have every reason to believe that they will continue to do well."
Yale's new program follows similar actions taken by several pediatric healthcare providers over the past few months to treat children with long COVID and to learn more about its health effects.
Last month, University of Michigan Medicine's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital announced the opening of the state's first pediatric multidisciplinary clinic to address patients under the age of 21 who experienced COVID-related symptoms that have lasted six weeks after infection.
New Jersey-based RWJBarnabas Health's St. Barnabas Medical Center has been offering pediatric care services as part of its comprehensive assessment, recovery and evaluation program that focuses on addressing the health needs of kids with long COVID.
In March, the National Institutes of Health announced the launch of a new research effort to understand how the virus that causes COVID-19 affects children with a specific focus on learning the root causes for why some end up developing more severe health conditions like MIS-C.