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The Kids Are Not Alright: A Preliminary Report of Post-COVID Syndrome in University Students

By Julie Walsh-Messinger, Hannah Manis, Alison Vrabec, Jenna Sizemore, Karyn Bishoff, Marcella Debbida, Dolores Malaspina, Noah Greenspan

Posted 29 Nov 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.11.24.20238261

Background: Post-COVID syndrome is increasingly recognized by the medical community but has not been studied exclusively in young adults. This preliminary report investigates the prevalence and features of protracted symptoms in non-hospitalized university students who experienced mild-to-moderate acute illness. Methods: 148 students completed an online study to earn research credit for class. Data from COVID-19 positive participants with symptoms [&ge;]28 days (N=22) were compared to those who fully recovered (N=21) and those not diagnosed with COVID-19 (N=58). Results: 51% of participants who contracted COVID-19 (N=43) experienced symptoms [&ge;]28 days and were classified as having post-COVID syndrome; all but one (96%) were female. During acute illness the post-COVID group, compared to those who fully recovered, experienced significantly more chest pain (64% vs 14%; P=.002), fatigue (86% vs 48%; P=.009), fever (82% vs 48%; P=.02), olfactory impairment (82% vs 52%; P=.04), headaches (32% vs 5%; P<.05), and diarrhea (32% vs 5%; P<.05). Compared to those not diagnosed with COVID-19, the post-COVID syndrome group more frequently experienced exercise intolerance (43% vs. 0%; P<.001), dyspnea (43% vs. 0%; P<.001), chest pain (31% vs 7%; P=.002), olfactory impairment (19% vs 0%; P=.004), lymphadenopathy (19% vs 0%; P=.004), gustatory impairment (14% vs 0%; P=.02), and appetite loss (36% vs 14%; P=.02). Conclusions: Our results contradict the perception that this yet-to-be-defined post-COVID syndrome predominantly affects middle-aged adults and suggest that exercise intolerance, dyspnea, chest pain, chemosensory impairment, lymphadenopathy, rhinitis, and appetite loss may differentiate post-COVID syndrome from general symptoms of pandemic, age, and academic related stress. These findings are also consistent with previous reports that females are more vulnerable to this post viral syndrome. Large-scale population-based studies are essential to discerning the magnitude and characterization of post-COVID syndrome in young adults as well as more diverse populations.

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