- New research finds that children have a much lower risk of experiencing the symptoms of “long COVID.”
- When children do have lingering symptoms related to COVID-19, they often resolve within 3 months.
- The best way to protect yourself against long COVID-19 is to get vaccinated, physically distance, and wear a mask.
A new analysis finds that long-term COVID-19 remains relatively rare among children.
Researchers based in Australia analyzed 14 international studies involving 19,426 children and adolescents who reported “long COVID” symptoms after infection with the coronavirus.
Their findings suggest that the condition is much less common than previously thought.
According to a recently published scientific review by researchers at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), most global studies into long COVID in children had “significant limitations” and frequently overstated the risk.
While relatively rare, long-term COVID-19 can affect children, according to the researchers. In these cases, they found that the most common symptoms reported were headache, fatigue, sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties, and abdominal pain.
This analysis is significant because it looked at studies that had a control group of children who didn’t have COVID-19.
Many long COVID studies had no control group of healthy children, according to the researchers.
In studies that included control groups, the percentage of people reporting long-term COVID-19 symptoms was similar among those with and without the infection.
“Of the five studies which included children and adolescents without SARS-CoV-2 infection as controls, two did not find persistent symptoms to be more prevalent in children and adolescents with evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the study authors wrote.
They pointed out that this highlights the difficulty in distinguishing long-term COVID-19 symptoms from pandemic-associated symptoms.
A separate research brief from MCRI concluded that “most” children and adolescents with COVID-19 are only mildly affected by the illness, some showing no symptoms at all.
When children do experience symptoms, they typically include fever, cough, a sore throat, blocked or runny nose, sneezing, muscle aches, and fatigue — more severe symptoms being uncommon.
“Severe COVID-19 disease in children and adolescents is very uncommon, and only very rarely causes death,” the authors wrote.
Some children were at increased risk compared to children in general.
The research brief also found children and adolescents with pre-existing health conditions that include obesity, cardiovascular disease, and immune disorders have up to a 25-fold greater risk of severe COVID-19.
This falls in line with other research.
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The risk of developing long-term COVID-19 is real, and experts are still trying to understand why some people have long-lasting symptoms and others don’t.
The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and to practice physical distancing and mask-wearing in places where viral spread is high.
However, experts say that people shouldn’t be overly worried about developing long COVID symptoms. Many people with COVID-19 will end up feeling better within a few weeks.
“Most people with mild or moderate symptoms associated with a COVID-19 infection will feel better and return to their baseline in 1 to 3 weeks,” says Dr. Teresa Murray Amato, director of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in Queens, New York.
Some people with severe infection that experience long COVID symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pains may be at higher risk for symptoms that can last up to 3 months or more.
Experts say we still don’t know enough when it comes to long COVID in healthy children.
“We are not sure if kids or adolescents are at higher risk for long COVID,” said Amato. “Studies are currently collecting and analyzing data to determine what, if anything puts people, including younger patients, at a risk for long COVID.”
“Because long-COVID is rare in children, it’s too soon to estimate the impact it will have on [them],” said Dr. Thomas Gut, associate chair of medicine and director of the Post-COVID Recovery Center at Staten Island University Hospital in New York.
Gut explained that, unlike the 30 to 50 percent of adults who have long COVID after infection, children tend to have much milder cases of COVID-19, and the symptoms resolve quickly.
He also said that Delta variant, while highly infectious, hasn’t caused more severe cases in children.
“Delta has a larger effect on children than previous strains due to how much more contagious the newer strains become,” he said “Luckily, the severity of disease does not vary much between strains.”
The study authors said there’s an urgent need for more research in order to help lawmakers decide on policies regarding childhood vaccination against the virus.
“The low risk posed by acute disease means that one of the key benefits of COVID vaccination of children and adolescents might be to protect them from long COVID,” said Nigel Curtis, PhD, professor of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Melbourne and head of infectious diseases at the Royal Children’s Hospital, in a statement.
“An accurate determination of the risk of long COVID in this age group is therefore crucial in the debate about the risks and benefits of vaccination,” he continued.
Experts say that vaccinations are key to stopping the virus and protecting children from both COVID-19 and long COVID.
This week, Pfizer-BioNTech released data that found vaccines were helpful at protecting children from developing COVID-19. They’ll ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an Emergency Use Authorization to administer their vaccine to children 5 to 12 this fall.
“Despite having much milder cases or sometimes even having no symptoms, children can still pass COVID on to others,” Gut warned, and emphasized that vaccination is one of the few ways we can reduce this risk.
New research finds that children have a much lower risk of experiencing the symptoms of long-term COVID-19. But when they do, the symptoms typically resolve within 3 months.
Experts say that although we still don’t have enough information about long COVID in children, children can still pass the virus on to others.
They also say while vaccination is the best way to prevent disease spread, we still don’t have an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine available for children under 12 years old.