Long-haul COVID-19 symptoms likely less common in kids than adults

A research letter published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that about 2% of children and teenagers who’ve had COVID-19 suffer symptoms lasting longer than 12 weeks — findings a University of Maryland School of Medicine doctor describes as reassuring.

The findings involve evaluations of 1,355 boys and girls ages six to 16 attending schools in Zurich, Switzerland. It compared children who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in October or November 2020 with those who tested negative.

Of the 109 who tested positive, 4% reported experiencing long-term symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, congestion or abdominal pain. But 2% of those with negative tests also reported those symptoms — so researchers consider the true quantification of persistent symptoms to be about 2%.

That’s “a very low percentage” as described by Dr. Neil M. Siegel, an assistant professor of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“I would say it’s preliminary, but it does provide reassurance,” Siegel said.

Approximately 10% of adults who have had COVID-19 report having at least one symptom as long as six months later.

Siegel said the published research letter is by no means a definitive or final word on the subject, but is instead a good starting point for future study. He said he believes a limitation to the report is its small scope.

“The next biggest limitation, though, is that they also didn’t look at the severity of illness of those 109 children who did have COVID positive,” Siegel said. “So we don’t know if these were children who had very mild infections, very severe or anything in between. We also have no way of telling whether that would make a difference toward long COVID symptoms.”

What he finds to be a major advantage of the report is that it includes a controller comparison group; some children or teenagers will always have the types of symptoms that were surveyed.

“What can we conclude? It’s hopeful that long COVID will be less of a problem in the pediatric world than it has been for adults,” Siegel said.

“It’s really hard from a small research letter like this one, to draw bigger or sweeping conclusions,” Siegel added. “This is a good start. And it can provide some of that reassurance. I don’t think we should over interpret and we have to have a healthy respect in this pandemic, for the parts that we don’t know.”

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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