Months after developing COVID-19, many people continue to suffer debilitating symptoms such as fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, depression and “brain fog,” sometimes appearing long after infections subside and affecting even those who only experienced mild bouts of the disease.
The condition, commonly referred to as “long COVID-19,” has mostly been studied in adults, yet it continues to be an enigma to the many doctors and scientists studying patient cases.
Even more of a mystery is how common the condition is in children infected with the virus, and how it manifests in their bodies. There’s no test to confirm long COVID-19, and younger kids may not be able to explain what they’re feeling, challenging doctors’ efforts to diagnose them properly.
It’s a puzzle that has become more worrisome now that a new school year is on the horizon, as coronavirus cases surge across the nation — mostly among the young and unvaccinated — and as those under 12 years old remain left out of COVID-19 vaccination eligibility.
Now, a new analysis of data of nearly 7,000 kids who tested positive for COVID-19 and experienced symptoms, part of the U.K.’s ZOE COVID Symptom Study, may quell some parents’ fears.
Less than one in 20 children (4.4%) felt coronavirus symptoms for more than four weeks, while just one in 50 (1.8%) experienced symptoms for more than eight weeks, according to the study published Tuesday in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. Nearly all children made a full recovery.
Sickness lasted five days, on average, in kids between 5 and 11 years old and seven days in kids aged 12 to 17. The most common symptoms reported were headaches, fatigue, sore throat and loss of smell; kids in the study didn’t experience serious neurological symptoms felt by some adult long-haulers such as seizures, anxiety or trouble concentrating.
In comparison, the same study found that about one in seven adults experienced COVID-19 symptoms for more than four weeks.
“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,” study senior author Emma Duncan, a professor of clinical endocrinology at King’s College London, said in a statement. “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.”
Nearly 4.2 million children have contracted the coronavirus as of July 29, the American Academy of Pediatrics calculates. In the last week, about 72,000 cases in kids were reported, a “substantial increase” from the prior week when about 39,000 cases were added.