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Long Covid in Children and Young Adults

New data shows that more than 1 in 10 children, teenagers and young adults who catch the Covid virus are getting ‘Long Covid’, a post-viral condition which lasts weeks after the person is first infected. Many people falsely think that children, teenagers, and young adults are ‘safe’ to catch Covid-19 because they rarely get serious Covid symptoms when they first catch the virus. But the new data underlines that many children, teenagers and young adults are instead getting a longer-term condition which potentially could have a serious effect on their future life. So, it’s vital that children, teenagers and young adults take the same precautions not to catch Covid as adults as it is not ‘safe’ for anyone to catch Covid.

BuDS has used only reliable scientific and medical sources to write this article and it has been reviewed by our expert team. But you should, of course, talk to your own doctor if you are worried about your own children’s health and what to do to protect them from Covid and Long Covid. If you would like to read the sources of information we used, please click on the references in the text or use the list of links at the end of the article.

WHAT IS LONG COVID?

All viruses trigger people’s immune system, which is the way that the body destroys harmful bacteria and viruses that get inside the body. But sometimes, when the immune system has been triggered to deal with a viral infection, the immune system can stop working correctly afterwards. If this happens, people can get long-term ‘autoimmune’ or ‘post-viral’ conditions, where the person’s own malfunctioning immune system starts causing problems for them. These problems can include specific issues with joints or organs, or issues with tiredness or pain. Long Covid is a post-viral condition which develops after the immune system is activated by the Covid virus.

WHEN IS COVID KNOWN AS LONG COVID?

This is how NHS doctors classify people who got Covid:

  • ACUTE COVID: Most people (if they have any symptoms at all) get symptoms of Covid for about 10 days after they first catch the virus, and then recover[1]. However, doctors think it is not unusual for people to have symptoms of Covid up to 4 weeks after catching the virus[2]. Anyone with symptoms of Covid up to 4 weeks after catching the virus is said to have ‘acute Covid’.
  • ONGOING COVID: If people still have symptoms of Covid after 4 weeks, doctors call this ‘ongoing Covid’.
  • POST COVID SYNDROME: If people still have symptoms of Covid after 12 weeks, doctors call this ‘Post-Covid Syndrome’.

Long Covid is a term used to describe people who have ongoing Covid (symptoms between 4 and 12 weeks) and those with post-Covid syndrome (symptoms after 12 weeks).

The main symptoms of Long Covid are those of Covid itself, that is to say tiredness, cough, headache, loss of taste, loss of smell, pain in the joints or body, sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and tummy pain. Some people get severe symptoms that affect them a lot, but most people get moderate or mild symptoms. The symptoms can last for many weeks and some people get better over time while others do not improve.

But because Covid is such a new virus, doctors simply don’t know enough about Long Covid yet to be sure of many facts about the condition.

HOW MANY CHILDREN, TEENAGERS AND YOUNG ADULTS ARE GETTING LONG COVID?

The Office for National Statistics recently looked at the NHS records of over 9000 people who had tested positive for Covid to see whether they were showing any symptoms of Covid 5 weeks after they had caught the virus[3]. Using this 5-week period means that they were looking for people who had ‘Long Covid’ rather than people who still had acute Covid.

According to this study, 13% of young and primary school age children, 15% of secondary school age children and 17% of young adults showed at least one Long Covid symptom five weeks after they first caught the Covid virus. These are high numbers. About 1 in 11 children currently have asthma[4], for example, suggesting that children and young people who have caught Covid are more likely to have symptoms of Long Covid than children in the general population are likely to have asthma. Another example is chronic fatigue, which around 2% of children and young people currently experience[5], a far smaller percentage than this study suggests might get Long Covid symptoms after catching Covid.

While we know that quite a high percentage of children and young adults were getting symptoms of Long Covid at 5 weeks, we don’t yet know whether the same percentage will still have these symptoms at 12 weeks or how many will recover then or later. We simply don’t know yet how Long Covid will affect people long-term.

EDUCATION

The Government’s plans to re-open schools, colleges and universities in England recognise that the mixing together of adults, children, teenagers and young people will lead to many people of all ages catching Covid. The Government hope more infected people will not lead to more people in hospital or dying with Covid, because the most clinically vulnerable groups have been partially vaccinated against Covid. But BuDS has not been able to find anything in any Government publication which looks at the risk of more cases of Long Covid in children, teenagers and young adults because of the re-opening of schools, colleges and universities. The Government do not yet seem to have recognised or tried to deal with the danger of Long Covid to children and young people if lots of them catch Covid as a result of re-opening education.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?

Because more than 1 in 10 children, teenagers and young adults who catch Covid go on to develop Long Covid, it is really important that children, teenagers and young adults do not catch Covid in the first place. It is NOT scientifically accurate to think that, because children, teenagers and young adults rarely get very ill when they first catch Covid, that Covid is somehow ‘safe’ for children, teenagers and young adults to catch. It is NOT safe for anyone, whatever their age, to catch Covid.

You can protect children, teenagers and young adults from Covid in the same way as you protect adults – with face coverings, social distancing, hand washing and avoiding close contact with others (but note children under 5 should only wear face coverings under close supervision[6]). We recognise that this may run against how schools and other education settings are managing Covid, and we urge you to raise these issues with head teachers if you are concerned.

To see the sources of information that we used to write this post, or to direct someone else to the article, please use this link: LINK

FINALLY

BuDS is here for you if you are anxious or lonely – e-mail us at [email protected], leave a voicemail on 01494 211179 or send us a message on social media.

SOURCES OF INFORMATION

[1] World Health Organisation

[2] Office for National Statistics

[3] Office for National Statistics

[4] Asthma UK

[5] Bristol University

[6] World Health Organisation