Illness duration and symptom profile in a large cohort of symptomatic UK school-aged children tested for SARS-CoV-2

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Background In children, SARS-CoV-2 is usually asymptomatic or causes a mild illness of short duration. Persistent illness has been reported; however, its prevalence and characteristics are unclear. We aimed to determine illness duration and characteristics in symptomatic UK school-aged children tested for SARS-CoV-2 using data from the COVID Symptom Study, the largest UK citizen participatory epidemiological study to date. Methods Data from 258,790 children aged 5-17 years were reported by an adult proxy between 24 March 2020 and 22 February 2021. Illness duration and symptom profiles were analysed for all children testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 for whom illness duration could be determined, considered overall and within younger (5-11 years) and older (12-17 years) groups. Data from symptomatic children testing negative for SARS-CoV-2, matched 1:1 for age, gender, and week of testing, were also assessed. Findings 1,734 children (588 younger, 1,146 older children) had a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result and calculable illness duration within the study time frame. The commonest symptoms were headache (62.2%) and fatigue (55.0%). Median illness duration was six days (vs. three days in children testing negative), and was positively associated with age (rs 0.19, p<1.e-4) with median duration of seven days in older vs. five days in younger children. Seventy-seven (4.4%) children had illness duration ≥28 days (LC28), more commonly experienced by older vs. younger children (59 (5.1%) vs. 18 (3.1%), p=0.046). The commonest symptoms experienced by these children were fatigue (84%), headache (80%) and anosmia (80%); however, by day 28 the symptom burden was low (median, two). Only 25 (1.8%) of 1,379 children experienced symptoms for ≥56 days. Few children (15 children, 0.9%) in the negatively-tested cohort experienced prolonged symptom duration; however, these children experienced greater symptom burden (both throughout their illness and at day 28) than children positive for SARS-CoV-2. Interpretation Some children with COVID-19 experience prolonged illness duration. Reassuringly, symptom burden in these children did not increase with time, and most recovered by day 56. Some children who tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 also had persistent and burdensome illness. A holistic approach for all children with persistent illness during the pandemic is appropriate.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Lancet Child & Adolescent Health
Publication statusPublished - 3 Aug 2021


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