Long Covid: One in seven children have coronavirus symptoms months after infection, study finds

Anna, who has long Covid, is constantly exhausted and has been unable to go to school, ITV News Reporter Charanpreet Khaira reports

Ever since young Anna caught Covid-19 a year and a half ago, she has been stuck at home, barely able to move from the sofa.

Long Covid has "completely changed her entire life," says mum Helen Goss.

The teen, who was once full of laughter and energy, is now "constantly exhausted", she said.

Ms Goss continued: "She has a concentration span of about 45 minutes max, so she's not actually well enough to go to school right now."

She also said: "She has nightmares, she has audio hallucinations, she can hear things that aren't there - and this is all brain inflammation."

The mum describes how Anna will constantly ask: "What's wrong with me, mummy? Why am I like this? When am I getting better?"

A new study of 7,000 children aged 11-17 - the largest study yet on long Covid in children - suggests Anna is not alone.

It suggests as many as one in seven children who get coronavirus could have symptoms - including headache, tiredness and a loss of taste and smell - almost four months later.

Researchers said at least 4,000 and as many as 32,000 teenagers who tested positive in England are estimated to have had three or more Covid-related symptoms about 15 weeks later.

And those who tested positive were twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later than those who tested negative.

Researchers say the latest study shouldn't yet be used as evidence that children should get the Covid vaccine, ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke explains

When surveyed around 15 weeks after their test, 14% more young people in the positive group had three or more symptoms, including unusual tiredness and headaches, than those who tested negative.

One in 14, or 7%, more in the positive group had five or more symptoms.

Around 40% of children experienced mental health problems, whether they tested positive or not. Researchers said a high proportion reported being a bit or very worried, sad or unhappy.

The research, led by University College London and Public Health England, was made up of children who had a positive PCR test result between January and March and a group who tested negative in the same period.

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Sir Terence, Nuffield Professor of Child Health at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said: “There is consistent evidence that some teenagers will have persisting symptoms after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2.

“Our study supports this evidence, with headaches and unusual tiredness the most common complaints.

“The difference between the positive and negative groups is greater if we look at multiple symptoms, with those who had a positive test twice as likely to report three or more symptoms 15 weeks later.”

The Children and young people with Long Covid (CLoCk) research is ongoing, with children being analysed six months, a year and two years after their PCR test.

Leader of the study, Sir Terence Stephenson, said while he is reassured by these early findings that they are “nowhere near what people thought in the worst-case scenario”, he remains “very concerned” that there could be young people who are “severely affected”.

He said: "There will be some young people who are completely bedridden or remain very short of breath or have daily headaches, and I wouldn’t want to diminish that, but we’re reporting kind of aggregate numbers.

“I think overall it’s better than people would have guessed back in December.”

A school girl having a Lateral Flow Test for Covid-19 Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA

Currently, all healthy children aged 16 and 17 can get the Covid-19 vaccines, while at-risk children aged 12-15 are also eligible.

The long Covid findings will be presented to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) – which has not yet decided on extending the Covid jabs rollout to all 12 to 15-year-olds.

Imperial College London's Dr Liz Whittaker, who also worked on the study, said the JCVI’s decision is likely to be based on the risk of severe disease from the coronavirus compared with risks of the vaccine, rather than the data in this study.