Eleven percent of youngsters aged three to 18 that contracted the coronavirus are suffering from ongoing symptoms even after recovering – a condition that has been dubbed long COVID –according to a Health Ministry survey.
In some cases (between 1.8 and 4.6 percent, depending on the age), symptoms persisted six months after recovery.
The telephone survey was conducted between May 31 and June 13 among 13,834 parents of children aged three to 18 who had recovered from the coronavirus, representing all segments of the population. According to the ministry, 94 percent of those called cooperated.
However, the survey has some limitations, among them the fact that parents reported their children’s symptoms, and not the children themselves. It is also impossible to negate other experiences the children may have had during this period that had nothing to do with the virus but could have contributed to the appearance of various symptoms.
The study found a correlation between the age of the child and the appearance of long-term symptoms, with persistent symptoms becoming more common among older children. The percentage of children aged three to six with long COVID was 1.8 percent, compared with 4.6 percent among young people aged 12 to 18.
Children who had experienced COVID-19 symptoms when they were ill were more likely to have long COVID than those who were asymptomatic when diagnosed with the virus. Among those 12 to 18 who had experienced symptoms, 5.6 percent had long COVID, compared with 3.5 percent of those who had been asymptomatic. Among ages three to six, 3 percent of those who’d been symptomatic had long COVID, compared with 1.3 percent of those who had been asymptomatic. And among those six to 12, 2.8 percent of children who were symptomatic suffered from long COVID symptoms, compared with 2 percent of those who’d been asymptomatic.
The list of symptoms parents were asked about included coughing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, diarrhea, headaches, general weakness, loss of taste and smell, rash, high fever, abdominal pain, muscle aches and drowsiness.
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It is difficult to ascertain how dramatic the symptoms were and how much they affected the children’s quality of life, especially based on parental responses. The survey did not collect information regarding the severity and frequency of the symptoms, or which of the children needed treatment at one of Israel's post-coronavirus clinics.
The survey doesn’t make clear which among the symptoms that parents were asked about were the most prevalent. Most of the parents who were asked (555 of 1,546) responded “other” as the most common symptom. After that, 344 said it was “general weakness,” 236 responded “drowsiness and lower activity” and 228 “headaches.”
Loss of smell and taste was only cited by 174 of those surveyed and, in most cases, it affected children ages 12 to 18. That was also the age group that experienced the most prolonged symptoms, which continued for three to four months.
The differences between morbidity between children and adults were first noticed at the pandemic’s onset. Although a lot of uncertainty remains about the long-term impact of the virus for everyone, there is a general consensus that children suffer the immediate impact less so than adults. Over the life of the virus, the number of children that were hospitalized in Israel after contracting the coronavirus was very low – less than 1 percent of all children infected. Likewise, the seriousness of symptoms they experienced was more moderate across the board.
The appearance of long-term symptoms among children who were asymptomatic when they were actually sick with the virus is a worrying development, but must be subject to studies that go beyond a telephone survey.