According to the world’s largest study of long-term Covid in children, up to one in seven children who get coronavirus could have symptoms almost four months later.
People who tested positive were twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later than people who tested negative, according to a study by University College London and Public Health England.
Lead author Professor Sir Terence Stephenson said he was “reassured” by the data, which in his opinion shows that it is “nowhere near what people thought in the worst case”.
The researchers said their results will be presented to the Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI) – which has not yet made a decision on expanding Covid vaccination to all 12-15 year olds.
The study looked at nearly 7,000 children, ages 11-17, comprised of those who tested positive for PCR between January and March and a group who tested negative over the same period.
When asked about 15 weeks after their test, 14% more young people in the positive group had three or more symptoms, including unusual fatigue and headache, than those who tested negative.
One in 14, or 7% more, in the positive group had five or more symptoms, the study showed.
Researchers said their data suggests that between September and March at least 4,000 – and possibly as much as 32,000 – teenagers out of the total population of this age group who tested positive in England had three or more symptoms related to the infection about 15 weeks later had .
While mental health and wellbeing scores differed little between children who tested positive compared to those who tested negative, the researchers said a high proportion in both groups said a little or a lot worried, sad, or unhappy.
This was 41% of those who tested positive and 39% of those who tested negative.
Sir Terence, Nuffield Professor of Child Health at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said, “There is consistent evidence that some teenagers will have persistent symptoms after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.
“Our study supports this evidence, with headache and unusual tiredness being the most common complaints.
“The difference between the positive and negative groups is greater when we look at multiple symptoms, with those who test positive are twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later.”
Research on children and adolescents with Long Covid (CLoCk) will continue with analyzing the results six months, one year and two years after the person is PCR tested.
Sir Terence said that while reassured by these early results, he remains “very concerned” that there may be young people who are “badly affected”.
He added, “This is something we come back to when we are young people studying at six months old.
“But there are going to be some young people who are completely bedridden or very short of breath or have daily headaches and I don’t want to decrease that, but we’re reporting some kind of total number.
“Overall, I think it’s better than people would have thought in December.”
Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, Liverpool, Leicester, Manchester and King’s College London, Imperial College London, Public Health England, Great Ormond Street Hospital and University College London Hospitals (UCLH) are also involved in the study.
Dr. Liz Whittaker, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology at Imperial College London, said the JCVI’s decision to extend the vaccine launch was likely based on the risk of serious illness from the virus versus the risks of the vaccine, rather than the data in this study referring to long covid.
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