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Long Covid ‘uncommon’ in children

Long Covid ‘uncommon’ in children
Sick little boy covering his mouth while coughing from corona virus in bed.

Long Covid is rarely seen in children, with most recovering from all Covid-19 symptoms within eight weeks of infection, according to a study from King’s College London. 

Fewer than one in 20 children had symptoms for four weeks or more, while only one in fifty had symptoms lasting more than eight weeks.

The researchers found that, on average, the Covid-19 illness lasted for five days in younger children aged 5 to 11 years old and seven days in older children aged 12 to 17. 

Covid-19 is usually asymptomatic in children or causes a mild illness over a short period of time. There has, however, been previous research that suggests evidence of long-term illness in children. This more recent study, published in The Lancet, child and adolescent health, aimed to establish the prevalence and characteristics of long Covid in children and used data from the ZOE COVID symptom study app.

The researchers examined health reports for children aged between 5 and 17, logged by parents and carers between September 2012 and January 2020, which coincided with the autumn reopening of schools, as well as the peak of the winter wave and widespread availability of Covid testing.

During this time, data was analysed from 1,734 children who had a clear start and endpoint to their symptoms and a positive Covid PCR test, enabling the researchers to determine the duration of their illness. The most common symptoms experienced by children were headaches, tiredness (fatigue), a sore throat, and loss of smell (anosmia).

Senior author Emma Duncan and Professor of Clinical Endocrinology at King’s College London said: ‘We know from other studies that many children who catch coronavirus don’t show any symptoms at all, and it will be reassuring for families to know that those children who do fall ill with Covid-19 are unlikely to suffer prolonged effects.’ 

She added: ‘However, our research confirms that a small number do have a long illness duration with Covid-19, though these children too usually recover with time.’

The researchers then compared children who had tested positive for Covid-19 with those who had reported symptoms of Covid-19 on the app but then went on to have a negative Covid-19 test. 

These children were, on average, ill for three days, with only a handful of children reporting symptoms after four weeks. The children from this cohort who did have symptoms lasting longer than four weeks had more symptoms than those with long Covid, indicating that other childhood infections can cause long-term illnesses. 

Professor Duncan added: ‘It’s also important that we remember that there are other infectious diseases that can leave children unwell for many weeks, and these children shouldn’t be overlooked.’

In December, new NICE guidance recommended that GPs should consider referring long Covid patients to specialist clinics as soon as four weeks after acute infection, after ruling out other diagnoses. 

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