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One-in-seven children with Covid still symptomatic months later

by Jess Hacker
3 September 2021

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As many as one-in-seven children with Covid-19 may have symptoms linked to the virus 15 weeks later, according to the largest study on long Covid in children and young people.

Led by University College London and Public Health England, the researchers looked at survey responses from nearly 7,000 11- to 17-year-olds who underwent PCR tests between January and March. Of these, 3,065 tested positive.

When following up 15 weeks after their test, about 14% of those who had tested positive for Covid-19 had three or more symptoms of ill health, including unusual tiredness and headaches.

This was compared with one-in-14 (7%) of those who tested negative. Researchers concluded that the reason children who tested negative but still reported symptoms at 15 weeks include the fact that tiredness is common in the age group.

Sir Terence Stephenson, Nuffield professor of child health at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said: ‘There is consistent evidence that some teenagers will have persisting symptoms after testing positive. Our study supports this evidence, with headaches and unusual tiredness the most common complaints.

‘The difference between the positive and negative groups is greater if we look at multiple symptoms, with those who had a positive test twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later.’

The study results come as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its monthly estimates of the prevalence of self-reported long Covid in the UK population (2 September).

These figures suggest that 970,000 people, or 1.5% of the UK population, experienced persistent symptoms as of 1 August, marking a marginal increase from 945,000 in July. In June, this number had sat at an estimated 962,000 people.

ONS also said that 817,000 people had reported symptoms lasting 12 weeks, down slightly from 835,000 the previous month.

Similarly, 384,000 (40%) first had or suspected they had Covid-19 at least one year previously.

And 643,000 people (66%) with self-reported long Covid said the symptoms adversely affected their day-to-day activities, while 188,000 (19%) reported that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been ‘limited a lot’.

ONS also found that, consistent with previous surveys, prevalence of long Covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, women, people living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.

In June, NHSE allocated £30m to GP practices to improve diagnosis and care for patients with long Covid as part of a £100m investment to expand care for the condition.

Meanwhile, a recent study found that more than a quarter of GP practice in England are not using the clinical codes for long Covid in patient records.