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Your Covid-19 questions answered

What are some of the things I need to know about long Covid in children?

03 November 2021 - 06:57
While children have a lower rate of death from Covid-19, many face illness and long-term symptoms that continue to be studied.
While children have a lower rate of death from Covid-19, many face illness and long-term symptoms that continue to be studied.
Image: REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

Concerns about long Covid-19 in children continue to grow following the vaccine rollout for children between 12 and 17 years old.

What is long Covid?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), long Covid is a post-Covid-19 condition that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed infection. 

It usually appears three months after the onset of Covid-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and can’t be explained by an alternative diagnosis. 

Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, cognitive dysfunction and others that generally have an impact on daily functioning. Symptoms may fluctuate or relapse over time.

Can children get long Covid? 

It is unknown how many people suffer from long Covid, but any Covid-19 patient can be affected, including those who experienced mild symptoms and those who had severe disease and were treated in hospital.

According to a Nature report, long Covid does occur in children but is  less common than in adults.

It states that estimates of how common long Covid is in children vary wildly and that identifying it is crucial because decisions about school closures and vaccine rollouts can hinge on the risk the coronavirus poses to children. 

What does data say about long Covid?

According to a senior lecturer at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland,  Dr Petra Zimmermann, there is not enough data to understand the impact of long Covid in children and adolescents to help guide authorities when making vaccine policy decisions.

Zimmermann told Medical News Today that some studies indicate no difference in the symptoms reported by those who develop Covid-19 and those who had not.

“Only a few studies have a control group of children and adolescents who have not [acquired the infection]. Of the studies that did have a control group, two did not find a difference between the children who had [contracted the infection] and those who had not,” she said.

“This means the symptoms attributed to long Covid are very difficult to differentiate from symptoms that arise for other reasons related to the pandemic, such as school closures, lockdowns, not being able to see friends or do sports and hobbies, seeing friends and family suffering or even dying from Covid-19, being worried about transmitting the virus to others and many more.”

What to do if your child has long Covid 

Recovery depends on the patient’s age, overall health and the severity of the Covid-19 symptoms.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) advises parents to let children know they are not alone and research has found that most symptoms, if not all, will go away with time. 

However, patients with troublesome symptoms or those that fail to resolve in six to eight weeks should visit their nearest doctor or clinic.

A review led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute  in Australia found long Covid rarely lasts longer than 12 weeks in children and adolescents.

“Every long Covid patient is different. Every patient will need treatment specific to their symptoms which can be managed by their family doctor or clinic,” said the NICD. 

“There are no drugs to prevent long Covid. Long Covid is not a contraindication to vaccination, and vaccination may even sometimes improve long Covid symptoms.”