Fewer than one in seven young people aged 11–17 years infected with SARS-CoV-2 have symptoms linked to the virus 15 weeks after infection

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Fewer children and young people may have long COVID than previously feared, according to preliminary findings.

The world’s largest study into the condition found that almost one in seven young people infected with SARS-CoV-2 could have symptoms linked to the virus 15 weeks after infection, scientists said.

The preprint study, led by University College London, was based on data from 3065 people aged 11–17 years in England who had a positive PCR test between January and March 2021. The results were matched with a control group of 3739 people of the same age who did not have COVID during the same period.

The data revealed that, at an average of 15 weeks after their test, 14% more young people in the group who tested positive had three or more symptoms of ill health, including tiredness and headaches. Around 7% had five or more physical symptoms.

Multiple symptoms 

The researchers said that the data suggested that, over a 7-month period between September 2020 and March 2021, between 4000 and possibly 32,000 teenagers who tested positive in England may have had multiple symptoms linked to COVID-19 infection after 15 weeks.

The discrepancy in the estimated numbers was linked to whether teenagers chose to respond to the survey or declined the invite. The authors also pointed out that tiredness was not uncommon in people of this age group.

‘The raw data is that twice as many people who tested positive as those who tested negative have three plus, or five plus, symptoms 15 weeks later’, commented Sir Terence Stephenson, Nuffield Professor of Child Health, who is the Chair of the Health Research Authority and who led the investigation.

However, he told a briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre that the numbers were ‘not as bad as the worst case scenario last December’.

The researchers also found little difference in mental health and wellbeing between those who tested positive or negative for COVID. However, a high proportion of participants in both groups reported being a bit sad, very worried, or unhappy.

The Children and young people with Long COVID (CLoCk) study will gather follow-up data at 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years from the time that contributors took a PCR test.

Infection hubs 

Dr Jonathan Pearce from the Medical Research Council said: ‘This study is very important, as it will inform our understanding of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the physical and mental health of children and young people. Comparing children who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 with children who did not allows researchers to identify the contribution of COVID-19 to their symptoms. 

‘The more we can learn about how people react to COVID-19 in both the short and longer term, the better equipped we will be to help affected individuals and to deal with future infectious disease risks.’

NHS Deputy Medical Director for Primary Care, Dr Kiren Collison, said: ‘Within a year of long COVID emerging as a condition, the NHS in England invested £134 million to establish over 80 long COVID clinics in every local health area in the country—and, in July, the NHS announced 15 new paediatric hubs to help treat young people with the condition’.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Nick Bishop, Vice President for Science and Research at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that the study highlighted ‘the strains placed on many young people during the pandemic’.

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.