Long COVID-19 is a term associated with the patients whose symptoms and signs persist for more than 4 weeks (in some cases 12 weeks) after getting infected. Also, in some patients there can be other conditions as well. They recover from their original infection, but continue to suffer from other long term problems. However, in most cases, COVID-19 patients get cured relatively quickly and will get severe clinical conditions.
When considering the specific case of children suffering from COVID-19, large scale studies remained scarce to suggest the propensity of children to develop long COVID, or the average recovery period among them. A Lancet study published on August 3 has shed some light on this aspect. The study suggests that children getting infected with COVID-19 can rarely experience long-term symptoms, and most of them recover within less than a week.
The study was led by Professor Emma Duncan of Department of Twin Research and Epidemiology, Faculty of Life Science, King’s College, London. The researchers concluded that although long term COVID-19 is rare among children, the possibility of developing the conditions cannot be ruled out completely, and a small group of children may experience prolonged illness.
The researchers involved in the study used data provided by parents or health care workers to an app known as UK Zoe Covid Study app. The study considered 1,734 children, who belong to the age group of 5 to 17 years. They were reported to be tested positive for COVID-19 and developed symptoms. The study was conducted between September 2020 and February 2021.
The Lancet paper reported that about 2,58,790 children within the age group of 5-17 years were reported to have COVID by an adult proxy during the period of March 2020 to February 2021. Out of them, 75,529 had a valid test result for the coronavirus. The study considered the children reported to have tested COVID-19 positive between September 2020 and February 2021.
The study found that one in 20 children suffering from COVID-19 experienced symptoms to have persisted for four weeks or more, which suggests only 5% of them had long symptoms for more than four weeks. One in 50 (2%) had symptoms for more than eight weeks.
Interestingly, those within 12 to 17 years of age were found to have a recovery period of around a week, while the younger ones took only six days on an average to recover.
The most common symptoms were found to be headaches and tiredness, with other common symptoms including sore throat and anosmia (loss of sense of smell). The study found no reports of neurological symptoms, like seizures, among the children.
The research also looked at an equal number of children who had symptoms, but were found to be negative for COVID-19. Only a few children, 15 out of 1,734 continued to have symptoms for at least 28 days.
Emma Duncan, the corresponding author of the Lancet study was quoted to have said, “The takeaway message was: 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.”
“Children can also have prolonged symptoms from other illnesses as well. We need to be looking after all children who have protracted illnesses, irrespective of whether that illness is Covid-19 or anything else,” Duncan added.
Another author of the study, Michael Absoud, a consultant of paediatric neurodisability at the Evelina London Children’s Hospital said, “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 paediatric health services during the pandemic and beyond.”