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Long Covid less of a concern in children and adolescents than feared: Study

A review of the available research into long Covid in children and adolescents has found that it is rare for children and adolescents to report having symptoms associated with long Covid for longer than 12 weeks. During those 12 weeks the most common symptoms reported were headache, fatigue, sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties and abdominal pain.

The review also found that the existing studies on long Covid in children and adolescents “have major limitations” with some not showing “a difference in symptoms between those who have been infected by SARS-CoV-2 and those who haven’t.”

The review, which was published in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, was carried out by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI), Australia’s largest child health research institute.

Professor Nigel Curtis, of Melbourne University and the MCRI, said that while children with COVID-19 are “usually asymptomatic or have mild disease with low rates of hospitalization, the risks and features of long Covid were poorly understood.” He said that the studies that have been conducted so far lacked “a clear case definition, and age-related data,” and that they rely on “self- or parent- reported symptoms without a lab confirmation.”

Professor Curtis cautions that these methodological issues, combined with a low response rate in many of the studies available, indicate we may be overestimating the risk of long Covid. Curtis told the Guardian newspaper that “we don’t in fact have an accurate determination of the risk of long Covid, but it’s likely to be considerably less than many…headlines have been suggesting.”

Speaking to the Australian newspaper Dr Curtis said that “an accurate determination of the risk of long Covid” amongst children and adolescents is “crucial in the debate about the risks and benefits of vaccination…given the very low risk of severe disease we’d have to be ultra-cautious about vaccination in young children.”

Dr Petra Zimmermann, of the University of Fribourg and the MRCI, said that the symptoms of long Covid are “difficult to distinguish from those attributable to the indirect effects of the pandemics, such as school closures, not seeing friends or being unable to do sports and hobbies.”

The MCRI recently released a research brief which stated that “there are significant indirect effects of the pandemic on the mental health, learning and wellbeing of children and adolescents.” “Prolonged school closures and lockdowns,” according to the MCRI, “exacerbate these impacts, differentially affecting those living with disadvantage, diminishing social mobility and impacting economic productivity.”

Australia, the brief says, has seen “substantial increases in admissions to pediatric hospitals for mental health, substance use, self-harm and suicide attempts.”

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