Coronavirus Chronicles — Youth and COVID-19

For NBC News, reporters Olivia Sumrie and Willem Marx recorded the long and painful history of teenager Nia Haughton’s bout with the new coronavirus. Once her lungs had improved, her brain turned on her, producing seizures, life-like hallucinations, and, according to her mother, “a completely different personality.” She was re-hospitalized with the diagnosis of encephalitis, or brain inflammation.

The thing about children and young adults is, their brains are still developing. Experience with Haughton and other pediatric patients caused Dr. Ming Lim to tell the journalists,

I think that COVID has taught us that every time we feel complacent, that we know the spectrum, a new spectrum sort of evolves. We worry that the long-term effect would be in essentially brain growth…

Some kids are getting Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, or MIS-C. The full description of the physical pain and mental distress caused by this condition is horrifying. Sure, it’s rare (at the moment, anyway) but it’s really quite destructive, and so new that nobody has a clue what to expect, five or 10 years down the line.

Kids are coming out of COVID-19 with weird kinks in their nervous systems. Apparently, no one emerges from the disease with experiences anything like what the information disseminated by the government has led us to believe. According to the Centers for Disease Control “guidelines,” people should get better after two to six weeks.

But many entities disobey CDC guidelines, and the virus is one of them. Most of the descriptions are written by adults, thousands of whom have joined internet support groups. This is a small fragment of one message from Dani Oliver:

Neurological symptoms.

I had delirium & hallucinations. Many report tingling all over their body, an internal “buzzing” or “vibrating.” Also, insomnia & chronic hypnic bodily jerks… [W]aking up in the middle of the night, gasping for breath. I also experienced tremors while trying to sleep, like someone was shaking the bed. Also: many report a “hot head.”

Then, there’s the confusion. The “brain fog.” I couldn’t read or make sense of text at times. I couldn’t remember words. I’d stare […] at a loss for what I needed to communicate, or how to do it.

Just imagine how much worse all this is for a young person. Especially for an obese young person, the kind who is most likely to contract the virus. It’s one thing to go to a party, feel like garbage for a day, and then get on with life. But it’s a whole different experience to feel lousy day after day after day, never knowing when it might end.

Worse yet are the false hopes. Oliver emphasizes how the most important thing to know is that “recovery is non-linear.” For the typical “long-haul” patient, their chart of improvement is as jagged as a dragon’s dentition. She writes,

It’s not “well, a tiny fraction of people die, and most people are better in two weeks.” This is simply untrue. So many of us have suffered for months.

Dr. Robert Stevens of Johns Hopkins is quoted as saying,

People who survive will recover from the respiratory failure, they’ll recover from the kidney disease, but the imprint on the brain is likely to be much more long-lasting.

Journalist Alexandra Sifferlin recounted the takeaway from a new CDC report that examined 391,814 cases of COVID-19 among patients younger than 21. This group chalked up only 121 deaths, so far, but because of the “long-haul” potential that becomes increasingly evident and documented, the trend is unsettling.

An ever-growing number of scientists are beginning to trace the outlines of expectations when it comes to children and youth, and their scenarios don’t even begin to approach the worst-case level. We are talking about a patient population with, supposedly, their whole lives ahead of them. Eventually, scientific research might catch up enough to supply meaningful longitudinal assessments. By then, for a lot of young people, it will be too late.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “COVID-19 and children: Doctors see link between virus and neurological side effects,”, 08/06/20
Source: Dani Oliver via, 07/03/20
Source: “Black, Hispanic, and American Indian Children Make Up Most Covid-19 Deaths Among Kids,”, 09/18/20
Image by Dan Gaken/CC BY-ND 2.0

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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