While the exact length of long-COVID is unknown, a new study has found that children who contract the virus will rarely experience after-effects lasting more than 12 weeks.
“Long-COVID is a range of symptoms that can last weeks or months that can happen to anyone who has had COVID-19,” Dr. Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, Internal Medicine Specialist at Abu Dhabi’s Bareen Hospital, told Al Arabiya English.
“The symptoms may affect a number of organ systems and frequently get worse after physical or mental activity. Symptoms vary from headache, extreme fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle pain, joint pain, and changes in memory,” he added.
A new study conducted by a team of researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) and published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal has found that the most common symptoms include: headache, fatigue, sleep disturbance, abdominal pain and concentration difficulties.
“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,” the study’s lead author Professor Nigel Curtis from the University of Melbourne was quoted as saying 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.”
Delta COVID-19 variant
The study’s authors also found that after 10 months of circulation, delta variant infections were not as severe in children than previous variants.
According to the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention, children above the age of 12 are eligible to receive the vaccine. Evidence has suggested that being inoculated against the virus halves the risk of getting infected with the delta strain and reduces the chances of getting a severe infection or spreading it to other people.
After analyzing and combining data from 14 studies conducted across the world involving over 19,000 kids who experience persistent problems after contracting COVID-19, the researchers found that those with chronic kidney disease, obesity, immune system disorders and cardiovascular disease were 25 times more likely to suffer a severe case of the virus.
When infected with COVID-19, children usually exhibit mild symptoms or none at all. They are also known to be hospitalized with the virus less than adults. However, despite this, the risks of long-COVID in this age group remains poorly understood.
Tackling the need for further research
Existing studies on long-COVID in children and adolescents have major limitations, according to the study’s authors.
“Current studies lack a clear case definition and age-related data, have variable follow-up times, and rely on self- or parent-reported symptoms without a lab confirmation,” said Curtis.
“Another significant problem is that many studies have low response rates meaning they might overestimate the risk of long-COVID.”
One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Petra Zimmermann of MCRI said that some symptoms of long-COVID in children were difficult to distinguish from the indirect effects of school closures, not socializing with friends in person or partaking in sports activities and hobbies.
“This highlights why it’s critical that future studies involve more rigorous control groups, including children with other infections and those admitted to hospital or intensive care for other reasons,” she said.
Co-chair of the MCRI COVID-19 governance group Professor Andrew Steer echoed this sentiment and said that “more data is needed to describe the burden of COVID-19 in children and adolescents following the emergence of the highly transmissible delta variant and because adults have been prioritized for vaccines.”
“As restrictions ease and other respiratory viruses increase in circulation, we also need to understand whether co-infection with other respiratory viruses, such as RSV or influenza, increases disease severity in young people,” he added.