Children and adolescents who are infected with Covid-19 rarely have symptoms that last longer than 12 weeks, according to a review of international research.
The review, published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, suggests that prolonged Covid in children and adolescents is less common than previously feared.
The review analyzed 14 international studies involving 19,426 children and adolescents who reported long-term symptoms after Covid-19 infections.
Study co-author Professor Nigel Curtis, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said more research is needed to determine the exact risk of long-term Covid in young people, in particular to inform decisions about vaccinating children. under 12 years old.
“When you balance the risk-benefit of vaccines, you always want to make sure that the harms of the disease outweigh the potential harms of the vaccine. Because the risk of the disease in children is so low, prolonged Covid becomes a major factor.
“In fact, we do not have an accurate determination of the risk of prolonged Covid, but it is likely to be considerably less than what many … headlines have suggested.”
Long Covid is a syndrome with more than 200 documented symptoms, but as a new condition, there is still no standardized clinical definition for diagnosis, including how long symptoms should persist.
Curtis, who is also a professor at the University of Melbourne and head of infectious diseases at Royal Children’s Hospital, said: “Because there is nothing we can measure and there is no test for it, it makes it very difficult, especially when attempts to separate it from symptoms simply due to blockage or other indirect effects of the pandemic. “
The researchers recognized that more work needs to be done as the review found that almost all existing studies had limitations.
In the studies reviewed, the five most common prolonged Covid symptoms reported in children and adolescents were headache, fatigue, sleep disturbances, concentration difficulties, and abdominal pain. But in studies that included control groups, the proportion of people who reported such symptoms was similar between people who had been diagnosed with Covid and those who had not. In most studies, symptoms did not last longer than 12 weeks.
Other studies had a low response rate, which may have biased the data. “People who respond to surveys are much more likely to have symptoms, so it will exaggerate the long-term Covid risk rate,” Curtis said.
Curtis sought to reassure parents without downplaying the individual impact of the long Covid. “No one underestimates the fact that it exists … we need to know the best way to diagnose and treat the condition.”
A separate research report by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute on Covid-19 in children suggests that the Delta variant has not caused more serious illness in children than previous strains, although its transmissibility has led to higher infection rates. .
“Hospitalization remains rare and the need for intensive care is extremely rare in children,” Curtis said. “Most of the children admitted to the hospital [with Covid] they are doing very well and they go home, and they are often admitted as a precaution. “
However, the research report also found that children and adolescents with pre-existing health conditions, such as obesity, chronic kidney disease, and immune disorders, were 25 times more likely to have severe Covid.
To date, no Australian children have died from Covid-19. There has been a teenage death, in a Sydney teenager who also had meningitis.