Don’t Let Your Guard Down Just Yet – Navigating COVID as the Vaccine Rolls Out

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COVID is still here, and it Caused Surprising Side Effects in my Daughter. It Could Happen to You, Too.

We are in this in-between period where COVID-19 is still infecting many people, but the vaccine is also rolling out. I know my personal worry levels about COVID have gone down because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s not time to let my guard down yet. 

COVID is still infecting people, and kids are not immune. Many kids are asymptomatic but my 12 year old was not asymptomatic – she got sick. And some of her symptoms lasted for almost two months.

I’ve been through all the questions about COVID. And I’ve received conflicting information from medical professionals, the county health department, state health department, and the CDC. This is probably because we are constantly getting more info on this disease. 

Where can I get reliable information about COVID-19?? 

I put my questions to Dr. Haley Zimmer, MD, with Metro Health – University of Michigan Health. I knew Dr. Zimmer would have up-to-date info

How to Protect Your Family from COVID While the Vaccine Rolls Out

My middle schooler contracted COVID last November – through no fault of her own. She was sick on and off for 14 days and still struggled cognitively for almost two months. I thought it was just stress from having COVID, but I learned from Dr. Zimmer that my daughter was suffering one of the lingering symptoms of COVID – poor concentration and impaired memory

We rode the roller coaster of wondering if the rest of the family would get it from her, and wondering if she’d ever fully recover. 

Fortunately, no one else in our home contracted COVID. (But we do have plenty of experience getting nasal swabs now!) I felt a little like superman for a minute. We had survived COVID!

Then a few weeks later one of my best friends watched it rip through her entire home. Her children, grandchildren, and she all fell victim over the course of several weeks. She’s still seeing doctors about her illness because she’s still not better. 

My superman euphoria evaporated. COVID-19 is still here, and it’s causing a lot of suffering beyond the typical flu. 

We are probably several months from widespread vaccination, so to protect yourself and your family in the meantime, Dr. Zimmer is offering her latest intel on COVID-19. 

Q & A With Metro Health Physician Haley Zimmer, MD, and One Mom’s Experience With COVID in her Home

*This information was accurate at the time of interview. Please note that what we know about the virus is constantly changing, and if you have more questions, contact your child’s pediatrician or primary care physician.

Q: How do I know that my child has COVID?

Dr. Zimmer: The symptoms of COVID can look similar to other viral infections in kids. The only certain way to know if a child’s symptoms are due to COVID is by testing for the infection.

My kids and I have had so many COVID-like symptoms, but at the end of the day, we’ve tested on three different occasions and only had one positive in all that.

Q: When should I call my doctor?

Dr. Zimmer: (Call your doctor} for advice on testing if you are concerned that your child may have COVID based on symptoms (fever, cough, etc) or close direct exposure to COVID.

If symptoms are progressing (fever not improving, shortness of breath) or concern for dehydration (no urine output in 12 hours, mouth looks dry) parent should contact their doctor’s office for advice/evaluation. Concerning symptoms that would need emergent evaluation would include difficulty breathing, chest pain, dusky color around the lips, severe abdominal pain, confusion or lethargy (can’t wake child up).

My kid had a COVID symptom I wasn’t expecting – vomiting. She had gone about three days symptom free and then suddenly couldn’t keep anything down. I was surprised to hear the doctor tell me over the phone that it’s another lingering covid symptom (that thankfully only lasted a few days). Her pediatrician was a helpful resource as we navigated this.

Q: What’s the difference between COVID and the flu? I heard there’s a virus going around that is a lot like COVID but isn’t. Is this true?

Dr. Zimmer: COVID and influenza can clinically look quite similar, and it’s possible to have co-infection (infection with both viruses) as well. As we enter flu season we are likely to test for both infections if the symptoms fit.

I was tested for both COVID and influenza recently. One swab, two test results. It was nice to confirm whether or not I had either of those illnesses. (I had neither.)

Q: What is it like for a kid to get tested for COVID? 

Dr. Zimmer: Testing for active infection involves using a nasal swab to collect a specimen from the nose. I would say most patients describe the test as briefly annoying/uncomfortable/irritating, but not painful.

I would label this test extremely uncomfortable for many kids! Two of my three kids were traumatized over the test. They bravely got the swab, not knowing it was so uncomfortable, and then openly sobbed afterward. They felt a little betrayed by me, but I had been told that it wasn’t that bad. 

I’ve been swabbed twice and I can confirm that it is more unpleasant than getting a shot. So if your kid is upset over shots, they’ll not like this test. 

My 9 year old sat in my lap in the car when they administered it a second time, and she brought a stuffed friend to hold. 

Q: What are the different test types and does Metro Health recommend one over another? Are the rapid tests dependable?

Dr. Zimmer: The molecular test, also referred to as PCR test, is performed within the hospital lab with slightly slower turnaround time (~1 day) compared to the antigen test. The PCR tests are more sensitive than the antigen “rapid” test, meaning they are slightly better at picking up a positive case.

The antigen test, also referred to as the rapid test, is usually done as a point of care test within the doctor’s office with results in ~15 minutes. It is slightly less sensitive than the rapid test and performs best when patients are symptomatic.

Both tests are quite specific, so a positive result is a good indicator of true infection.

The performance of the tests is affected by the timing– test too soon and you may miss a true positive because the infectious load isn’t high enough yet to detect.

We opted for the molecular test, and even though they said results may not come for seven days, we had our results within 24 hours each time.

Q: My kid has COVID. Now what? What are reasonable measures to take?

Dr. Zimmer: Most children will recover from COVID infection without issue. Treatment in the outpatient setting centers on supportive care/symptom management emphasizing rest, adequate fluid intake, Tylenol as needed. Some older children with comorbid medical conditions qualify for monoclonal antibody therapy, which should be discussed with your doctor.

My daughter had a lot of lethargy with COVID, and all the other symptoms besides the well-known fever and coughing/shortness of breath. I only became concerned when the vomiting began about 12 days in, as that can easily dehydrate an already-weak kid. Thankfully Dr. Zimmer’s recommendations of rest, fluids and Tylenol was all that was needed. 

Q: Have you noticed cognitive difficulties in patients who’ve had COVID?

Dr. Zimmer: We are definitely seeing patients with lingering symptoms weeks to months after their initial COVID infection – the so-called “COVID long-haulers.” These can be lingering physical symptoms or psychological/cognitive symptoms like in (your) daughter’s case.  One study surveying patient’s after COVID showed that nearly 1 in 5 had continued poor concentration, impaired memory or anxiety/depression 6-12 weeks after their initial infection.

My daughter contracted COVID at the beginning of a new marking period. Typically an A student, several weeks after returning to the classroom in person, her grades were in the dumpster. They were so bad that the assistant principal called me to ask after her. I thought that she was just having a lazy teen moment, or was still stressed from having COVID. 

Then a friend casually mentioned in a hobby group of mine that her concentration has been gone since COVID, and many other people came out of the woodwork saying they’ve had the same experience. Most of them took 2-3 months to feel 100% at work and home again. I was floored. This was my daughter! She wasn’t being a lazy teen – she was still recovering from COVID!

Nearly two months after getting COVID, she was suddenly doing her homework on her own, practicing her instrument without being asked, and showing interest in life again. 

If your kid gets COVID and seems a little slower to jump back into life, give grace. It could take a month or two for them to really feel “back to normal.”

I am hopeful we are nearing the end of this super stressful time in history, but until then, let’s keep our vigilance. Even if you don’t need a doctor or hospital stay if you get COVID-19, the side effects are something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. 

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