Children who have caught Covid-19 rarely experience long-term symptoms and usually recover within a week, research has found.
Some children may experience long-lasting Covid illness, known as “long Covid,” but parents should be assured that this is a small number of children, said scientists at King’s College London.
The peer-reviewed study, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal, looked at how Covid affected children and how it compared to other respiratory diseases. It used data given by parents or carers to the UK Zoe Covid Study app. The study looked at 1,734 children, aged between five and 17, who developed symptoms and tested positive for Covid between September 2020 and February 2021.
The study found that children are far less at risk of coronavirus than adults. Tiredness and headaches were among some of the most common symptoms experienced by children.
Less than one in 20 children with Covid experienced symptoms for four weeks or more. One in 50 had symptoms for more than eight weeks. In general, older children were usually ill for a longer period of time than primary school children. Children aged between 12 and 17 typically took a week to recover, whereas for younger children the illness lasted for five days.
Dr Liz Whittaker, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who wasn’t involved in the study, told the BBC the data matches what doctors have seen in clinics. Many children who have caught the virus do not develop symptoms and those that do tend to have a mild illness.
But this does not mean that long Covid for kids does not exist. HuffPost UK has previously interviewed parents whose children are impacted. Chris Ward described his son Thomas as being “like a six-year-old in a 90-year-old’s body”. Frances Simpson said long Covid has been “harrowing” for her 15-year-old daughter, Kitty, who’s been ill for over 200 days.
Parents who have children suffering from long Covid have said they feel helpless. The latest data estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest as many as 34,000 children in the UK are suffering from long Covid. This includes 11,000 children between the ages of two and 11, and 23,000 children aged 12 to 16.
Esther Crawley, professor of child health at the University of Bristol, said although long Covid in children is less common than in adults, the ONS report is “worrying”.
“As the number of children and young people who get Covid increases, this number developing long Covid is also likely to increase,” she said.
“The limitations in the data are acknowledged by the ONS. The most important limitation is that this is self-reported long Covid. However, this contributes to the emerging picture that long Covid is less common in children and adolescents compared to adults, but is still a very important health issue. The NHS will need significant resource to provide appropriate support and treatment.”
So, one report is telling parents not to worry, while another is highlighting that tens of thousands of children are suffering. Isn’t that a little contradictory?
Emma Duncan, professor of clinical endocrinology at King’s College London said the takeaway message from the data available is this: “Can children have prolonged illness after Covid-19? Yes they can, but it’s not common and most of these children get better with time.”
A separate informal study looked at children who were suffering from long Covid and found that those affected were most commonly experiencing fatigue, sore throat, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, muscle pain, and weakness months after first becoming sick.
Dr Michael Absoud, a consultant in paediatric neurodisability at Evelina London Children’s Hospital and a senior author of the most recent study, said it’s important to listen to families who say their children have symptoms. “If you are concerned about your child, the first thing you need to do is go to your GP and describe your particular symptoms,” he said.
“If they think it is related to Covid, there are NHS clinics dedicated to providing advice on how to approach this. Hopefully, they will be properly funded to support this small proportion of children.”