Most children with Covid-19 recover within a week, according to new research from King’s College London.
The study into the long-term effects of Covid on children found fewer than one in 20 (4.4%) experienced symptoms for more than four weeks while just one in 50 (1.8%) had not made a full recovery within eight weeks.
On average, the illness lasted for five days in younger children aged between 5 and 11-years-old and seven days in older children aged between 12 and 17.
The most common symptoms reported in children were headaches, tiredness , a sore throat and loss of smell.
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.
There were no reports of serious neurological symptoms such as fits or seizures, impaired concentration or attention, or anxiety.
The researchers looked at daily health reports logged in the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app between March 2020 and February 2021 by parents or carers on behalf of more than 250,000 children aged 5 to 17, with nearly 7,000 having symptoms consistent with Covid-19 and a positive test.
The team focused on the period from September 2020 through to February 2021 which coincided with the reopening of schools in the autumn and the peak of the winter wave when there was widespread availability of Covid testing.
During this time, 1,734 children were reported who had a clear start and end point to their symptoms and a positive PCR test, enabling the researchers to determine their duration of illness with some allowance for symptoms recurring.
Senior author Emma Duncan, professor of clinical endocrinology from the School of Life Course Sciences, said: ‘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.
‘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.
‘We hope our results will be useful for doctors, parents, and schools caring for these children – and of course affected children themselves.
‘It’s also important that we remember that there are other infectious diseases that can leave children unwell for many weeks, and these children shouldn’t be overlooked.’
The study was published today in Lancet Child and Adolescent Health before Health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed he had asked the NHS to prepare to vaccinate 16-17-year-olds ‘as soon as possible’ in line with the latest advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).
The advice was updated in light of changes in the spread of the disease in younger groups, and the latest safety data that was available, Public Health England said.
JCVI Covid-19 chair Wei Shen Lim said that ‘while Covid-19 is typically mild or asymptomatic in most young people, it can be very unpleasant for some’.
He also said that ‘for this particular age group, we expect one dose of the vaccine to provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation’.
The JCVI will advise at a later date when the age group should receive their second vaccine dose, but said this would not be before 12 weeks.
For now, the JCVI has maintained its previous advice that children aged 12 to 15 should only be vaccinated if they had specific underlying health conditions, however this is under review.