Long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms are rare in children, study says

A health care worker evaluates a child. A large study out of the United Kingdom has found that long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms are rare in children.

A health care worker evaluates a child. A large study out of the United Kingdom has found that long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms are rare in children. (FamVeld, Shutterstock)



TORONTO — A large study out of the United Kingdom has found that long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms are rare in children, with most recovering within a week of being infected.

The research team from various U.K. universities found that only 4.4% of children studied experienced symptoms beyond four weeks and less than 2% showed symptoms after eight weeks.

The study, which was based on data reported through a smartphone app by parents and caregivers, is the first detailed analysis of COVID-19 in symptomatic, school-aged children, according to researchers.

While some adults report experiencing illness for four weeks or longer after COVID-19 infection — known as long-COVID — King's College London professor and lead author of the study Emma Duncan said the new findings provide reassurance to parents that long-term symptoms in children are rare.

"It is reassuring that the number of children experiencing long-lasting symptoms of COVID-19 symptoms is low. Nevertheless, a small number of children do experience long illness with COVID-19, and our study validates the experiences of these children and their families," Duncan said in a press release.

The study, which was published Tuesday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, looked at data from more than 250,000 U.K. children between Sept. 1, 2020, and Feb. 22, 2021.

The data was collected through the ZOE COVID Study app and could not be cross-checked against health records. Because of this, researchers noted that there may be "inconsistencies in the way people interpret symptoms on behalf of their children."

Of the data collected, researchers studied 1,734 children who tested positive for COVID-19 between the ages of 5 and 17. These children were studied from the onset of symptoms until they reported being healthy again.

The study also took into account relapsing or remitting symptoms in children, allowing for periods of up to a week of being completely healthy.

According to the study, children with COVID-19 typically recovered within a week and had approximately three symptoms, with the average length of illness lasting six days.

The study noted that more than 98% of all symptomatic children recovered by eight weeks.

Researchers said the findings confirm that COVID-19 "tends to manifest as a mild illness in children and that they usually recover quickly."

However, the study reported that some children experienced an average of two persistent symptoms beyond four weeks with the most common symptom being fatigue (84%).

The study reported that other common symptoms of long-COVID in children were headache and loss of smell. Researchers noted that headaches were more common early in the illness while loss of smell tended to occur later and persisted longer.

The study found that older children were typically sick with COVID-19 for longer than primary school children. The average illness duration was seven days in children aged 12-17 compared to five days in children between the ages of 5 and 11.

From March:

Researchers reported that older children were more likely to have symptoms after four weeks, but there was "no difference" in the age groups of children who still had symptoms after eight weeks.

In addition, the researchers assessed the children who tested negative for COVID-19 who may have had other respiratory illnesses, such as colds and flu.

To do this, researchers randomly selected a group of age-matched and gender-matched children with symptoms reported through the app who were tested at the same time as the positive children.

The study found that children with COVID-19 were sick for longer than children with other illnesses who tested negative for the virus.

However, researchers reported that a "small number" of children with other illnesses tended to have more symptoms than those who were ill with COVID-19 after four weeks.

Dr. Michael Absoud, a lecturer at King's College London and senior author of the study, said the new data shows that children with persistent symptoms of any illness need "timely multidisciplinary care linked with education to support their recovery."

"Our data highlight that other illnesses, such as colds and flu, can also have prolonged symptoms in children and it is important to consider this when planning for pediatric health services during the pandemic and beyond," Absoud said in the release.

The researchers noted that this will be "particularly important" given that the prevalence of these illnesses are likely to increase as more COVID-19 measures are relaxed.

"We hope our results will be useful and timely for doctors, parents, and schools caring for these children — and of course the affected children themselves," Duncan said.

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Brooklyn Neustaeter

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