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Data on Long Covid in UK children is cause for concern, scientists say

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Scientists have warned that emerging data on Long Covid in children should not be ignored given the lack of a vaccine for this age group, but cautioned that the evidence describing these enduring symptoms in the young is so far uncertain.

Recently published data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that 13% of under 11s and about 15% of 12 to 16 year olds reported at least one symptom five weeks after a confirmed COVID-19 infection. 

Although children are relatively less likely to become infected, transmit the virus and be hospitalised, the key question is whether even mild or asymptomatic infection can lead to Long Covid in children, said Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London.

“The answer is that it certainly can, and the Long Covid support groups contain a not insignificant number of children and teens,” Altmann said.

Frances Simpson, a lecturer in psychology at Coventry University and co-founder of the Long Covid Kids group, said she was very worried about the emerging data on Long Covid in children. “We just think that there should be a much more cautious and curious approach to long Covid rather than a kind of a sweeping generalisation that children are OK, and that we should just let them all go back to school without any measures being put in place.”

One issue, she said, is the sizeable gap between acute infection and Long Covid kicking off. Some children are initially asymptomatic or have mild symptoms but then it might be six or seven weeks before they start experiencing long Covid symptoms, which can range from standard post-viral fatigue and headaches to neuropsychiatric symptoms such as seizures, or even skin lesions."

At the moment there is no consensus on the scale and impact of long Covid in adults, but emerging data is concerning. For children, the data is even more scarce.

Recent reports from hospitals in Sweden and Italy have generated concern, but this data is not from national trials – they are single-centre studies – and include relatively small patient numbers, said Sir Terence Stephenson, a Nuffield professor of child health at University College London.

Stephenson was awarded £1.36m last month to lead a study investigating Long Covid in 11- to 17-year-olds. “I don’t have a scientific view on what long Covid is in young people is – because frankly, we don’t know,” he said.

Preliminary results are expected in three months.

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Source: The Guardian, 2 March 2021

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