Scientists have estimated the prevalence of post-coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) conditions among schoolchildren in England. They have also assessed the presence of persisting symptoms among schoolchildren with or without a history of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection.
The study is published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.
Study: Post-COVID-19 condition and persisting symptoms in English schoolchildren: repeated surveys to March 2022. Image Credit: GUA5 / Shutterstock
The COVID-19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 has significantly impacted the health conditions of susceptible individuals, including elderly people, people with comorbidities, and immunocompromised patients. However, the disease has been comparatively less severe among children and adolescents.
Three years into the pandemic, a significant proportion of the global population is still experiencing persistent symptoms, medically termed as long-COVID. Some persisting symptoms, such as fatigue, anxiety, and unhappiness, have also been observed among children and adolescents who do not have a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection. These symptoms could be related to pandemic-imposed social restrictions.
In the current study, scientists have estimated the prevalence of long-COVID among schoolchildren in England. Moreover, they have compared the prevalence of persistent symptoms between schoolchildren with and without confirmed or suspected SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The study analyzed the data collected from the COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey that was conducted on English schoolchildren for the academic year 2021 – 2022.
A total of 7,797 children from 173 schools were enrolled in the study. For children aged 4 – 16 years, parents or guardians completed the study questionnaires. For the age group 16 – 18 years, children themselves provided the information.
The study questionnaires were designed to collect information on household structures, sociodemographic characteristics, medical and symptom history, COVID-19 diagnosis results, social contacts, and mental health status.
The prevalence of long-COVID in the study population was estimated to be 1.8% for primary schoolchildren aged 4 – 11 years, 4.5% for secondary schoolchildren aged 11 – 16 years, and 6.9% for secondary schoolchildren aged 16 – 18 years. No change in prevalence was observed concerning gender, comorbidities, or socioeconomic status.
A high prevalence of specific symptoms persisting for more than 12 weeks was observed in the study population, irrespective of infection history. Specifically, about 48% of primary schoolchildren and 52 – 79% of secondary schoolchildren reported at least one persisting symptom.
For primary schoolchildren, cough, sore throat, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating were the most commonly reported persisting symptoms. For secondary schoolchildren, anxiety, low mood, and difficulty concentrating were the most commonly reported symptoms.
The proportion of secondary schoolchildren reporting at least one persisting symptom was higher among those with a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection compared to those without prior infection. However, this trend was not observed among primary schoolchildren.
Among children with a history of SARS-CoV-2 infection, the most commonly reported persisting symptoms were loss of smell and taste, cardiovascular symptoms (chest pain and palpitation), and systemic symptoms (fever, chills, and fatigue). The prevalence of symptoms related to the lungs, head, eyes, ears, nose, and throat was also higher in children with prior infection than those without infection history.
The study finds a low but increasing prevalence of long-COVID among schoolchildren in England. A high percentage of these children also experience persisting symptoms irrespective of their history of SARS-CoV-2 infection. This highlights the wide-ranging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on this specific population's physical and mental health.
As mentioned by the scientists, more research is needed to thoroughly understand the long-term impact of persisting symptoms on educational outcomes and the overall quality of life of the young generation.