PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WHTM) — A new study from a pediatrician-scientist at UPMC finds that of hospitalized children who test positive for COVID, 44% developed neurological symptoms and are more likely to need intensive care than those who didn’t.

The study shows that the most common of those neurological symptoms were headaches and altered mental state. These findings are some of the first for the pediatric wing of the Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunction in COVID-19. This organization, featuring researchers from across the globe, continues to research how COVID-19 affects the brain and nervous system.

“The SARS-CoV-2 virus can affect pediatric patients in different ways: It can cause acute disease, where symptomatic illness comes on soon after infection, or children may develop an inflammatory condition called MIS-C weeks after clearing the virus,” said lead author Ericka Fink, M.D., pediatric intensivist at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, and associate professor of critical care medicine and pediatrics at Pitt. “One of the consortium’s big questions was whether neurological manifestations are similar or different in pediatric patients, depending on which of these two conditions they have.”

This study utilized 30 pediatric critical care centers from around the world. They say of 1,493 hospitalized kids, about 86% had acute COVID-19 and 14% were diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), typically showing as fever, inflammation and organ dysfunction after clearing the virus.

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The most common neurological symptoms with acute COVID-19 were headaches, an altered mental state, and seizures. Those with MIS-C had headaches, an altered mental state and dizziness. Rare symptoms include loss of smell, impaired vision, stroke and psychosis.

“Thankfully, mortality rates in children are low for both acute SARS-CoV-2 and MIS-C,” said Fink. “But this study shows that the frequency of neurological manifestations is high—and it may actually be higher than what we found because these symptoms are not always documented in the medical record or assessable. For example, we can’t know if a baby is having a headache.”

These neurological symptoms were more common with kids diagnosed with MIS-C, and were more likely to experience more than one symptom.

Fink says the team is also working on a follow-up to find whether acute COVID-19 and MIS-C, with or without these neurological conditions, have long-term effects on children’s health and quality of life after they’re discharged from the hospital.

“Another long-term goal of this study is to build a database that tracks neurological manifestations over time—not just for SARS-CoV-2, but for other types of infections as well,” she added. “Some countries have excellent databases that allow them to easily track and compare children who are hospitalized, but we don’t have such a resource in the U.S.”