Children with Covid-19 typically recover within a week

UK study finds most children experience few symptoms, and almost all recover within eight weeks

Older children were typically ill with Covid-19 for longer than primary school-aged children – the average illness duration was seven days in children aged 12 to 17 years versus five days in children aged five to 11 years.   Photograph: Getty Images

Older children were typically ill with Covid-19 for longer than primary school-aged children – the average illness duration was seven days in children aged 12 to 17 years versus five days in children aged five to 11 years. Photograph: Getty Images

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Children with Covid-19 typically recover within a week, and few experience long-lasting symptoms, according to a large study conducted in the UK.

Most experience few symptoms and almost all recover within eight weeks, the first detailed description of the disease in symptomatic children aged between five and 17 has found.

The study, reported in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, focused on data from 1,734 children who tested positive for the disease and whose symptoms were reported regularly by their families until they were healthy again.

Some 4.4 per cent experienced symptoms beyond four weeks and had an average of two persistent symptoms – the most common were fatigue, headache or loss of sense of smell.

Headache was more common early in illness whilst loss of sense of smell tended to occur later and to persist longer.

Fewer than 2 per cent (1.8 per cent) of the children experienced symptoms for longer than eight weeks.

Older children were typically ill for longer than primary school-aged children – the average illness duration was seven days in children aged 12 to 17 years versus five days in children aged five to 11 years.

Older children were also more likely to have symptoms after four weeks than younger children, but there was no difference in the numbers of children who still had symptoms after eight weeks.

“It is reassuring that the number of children experiencing long-lasting symptoms of Covid-19 is low,” said Prof Emma Duncan, lead author of the study, from King’s College London. “Nevertheless, a small number of children do experience long illness with Covid-19, and our study validates the experiences of these children and their families.”

Colds and flu

The researchers also assessed children who tested negative for Covid-19 who may have had other childhood illnesses, such as colds and flu. They found children with Covid-19 were ill for longer compared to children with other illnesses who had tested negative for the virus –- an average of six days’ illness with Covid-19 versus three days with other illnesses. While they were more likely to be ill for more than four weeks, at this point the small number of children with other illnesses tended to have more symptoms.

“Our data highlight that other illnesses, such as colds and flu, can also have prolonged symptoms in children and it is important to consider this when planning for paediatric health services during the pandemic and beyond,” said co-author Dr Michael Absoud.

“This will be particularly important given that the prevalence of these illnesses is likely to increase as physical distancing measures implemented to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are relaxed.

“All children who have persistent symptoms – from any illness – need timely multidisciplinary support linked with education to enable them to find their individual pathway to recovery.”

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