Children highly unlikely to experience lingering symptoms of ‘long COVID’

LONDON — ‘Long COVID’ continues to be a major concern for coronavirus patients, months after their initial illness. Luckily, as schools prepare to reopen in the fall, a new study reveals that children are very unlikely to deal with long-lasting side-effects of COVID-19.

A team from King’s College London has discovered that kids testing positive for COVID generally recover in just one week. Moreover, when it comes to “long hauler” symptoms, fewer than one in 20 children continue to experience COVID-related symptoms after four weeks. Just one in 50 experienced symptoms after eight weeks.

In adults, over 200 symptoms of long COVID have been documented in recovering coronavirus patients. These range from common side-effects such as fatigue and headaches to more serious conditions including skin problems, cognitive dysfunction, and heart palpitations.

Long COVID in kids appears both rare and minor

Researchers examined health records submitted to the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app between March 2020 and February 2021. The parents of more than 250,000 youngsters between five and 17 kept track of their child’s health during the pandemic, with nearly 7,000 noting symptoms related to COVID-19 and eventually receiving a positive test.

During their review, the team focused on a window from September 2020 to February 2021; lining up with the 2020 reopening of schools and winter peak in coronavirus cases. During this window, 1,734 children tested positive for COVID-19 and experienced symptoms of the virus.

On average, children between five and 11 years-old recovered in just five days. The illness lasted for about seven days in kids between 12 and 17. As for lingering side-effects of the infection, just 4.4 percent continued to experience COVID-related symptoms after one month. A mere 1.8 percent experienced long COVID symptoms two months later.

Study authors add these symptoms were generally mild in comparison to adults, with the most common after-effects being headaches, fatigue, a sore throat, or a loss of smell. Children with COVID typically had about six symptoms during the first week of their illness and around eight throughout the entire duration of the infection. Additionally, researchers found no reports at all of children experiencing serious neurological problems, such as seizures, anxiety, or impaired concentration or attention (brain fog).

Cold and flu season hitting kids even harder now

The team also compared these results to children experiencing COVID-like symptoms but who tested negative for the virus. On average, these children were sick for about three days, suffering from headaches, sore throats, and fevers. Just a handful of these kids continued to experience symptoms after four weeks.

As for what’s causing these illnesses, researchers believe children testing negative for COVID are likely dealing with a resurgence of cold and flu viruses, which have been rare during the pandemic. As schools reopen in 2021, the team suggests that these more common viruses will come back even stronger thanks to social distancing rules keeping kids from gaining the typical immunities to such illnesses.

“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. 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,” says senior author Emma Duncan, Professor of Clinical Endocrinology from the School of Life Course Sciences, in a university release.

“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. This will be particularly important given that the prevalence of these illnesses is likely to increase as physical distancing measures implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are relaxed,” adds Dr. Michael Absoud.

The findings appear in the journal The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.