Fewer than one in 20 children with symptomatic Covid-19 experienced symptoms lasting longer than four weeks, and almost all children have fully recovered by eight weeks, a new study done in the UK has found.
In findings published yesterday (Wednesday) in Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, researchers at King’s College London looked at daily health reports logged in a specialist Covid symptom study app between March 2020 and February 2021 by parents or carers on behalf of more than 250,000 children aged 5-17.
The same team of researchers had previously analysed data from adults using the same study app, which showed that around one in seven adults experienced Covid-19 symptoms lasting four weeks, while one in 20 were ill for eight weeks or longer.
On average, Covid illness lasted 5-7 days among infected children
For this latest analysis, the team focused on the period from September 2020 through to February 2021.
On average, Covid illness was found to have lasted for five days in younger children (5 to 11 years old) and seven days in older children aged 12 to 17. Fewer than one in 20 (4.4%) experienced symptoms for four weeks or more, while only one in 50 (1.8%) had symptoms lasting more than eight weeks.
The most common symptoms reported in children were headaches, tiredness (fatigue), a sore throat, and loss of smell (anosmia).
Typically, these children had six different Covid symptoms in the first week, and around eight different symptoms in total over the duration of their illness. Reassuringly, there were no reports of serious neurological symptoms – such as fits or seizures, impaired concentration and attention, or anxiety.
Duration of Covid illness compared with that of other child ailments
The researchers then compared outcomes for the children testing positive for Covid, with the same number who were reported as having symptoms, but who then tested negative for coronavirus.
On average, the children who tested negative were ill for only three days, most commonly reporting sore throat, headaches, fever and fatigue. While only a handful of them had symptoms lasting four weeks or more, these children had more symptoms than the children with long Covid.
As well as shedding light on the risk of long illness in children with Covid, this study also highlights that other childhood infections can cause long-term illness, with implications for the planning and delivery of child health services after the pandemic.
“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,” the researchers said.