Coronavirus

Data shows 24% of patients had persistent ailments months after leaving a Moscow hospital

Children who are hospitalised with coronavirus may be at risk of persistent fatigue and other symptoms of long Covid, according to researchers who examined the health of patients months after they were discharged.

Scientists interviewed the parents of more than 500 children who were admitted to a Moscow hospital with Covid between April and August last year. They found that a quarter had ongoing symptoms more than five months after returning home, with the most common ailments being fatigue, sleep disruption and sensory problems.

The preliminary work from a global team of scientists, including UK researchers on the International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium (Isaric), is not conclusive, but builds on early data from the Office for National Statistics that suggests some children may have ongoing symptoms after Covid infection.

Among 518 children included in the study, 24% had persistent symptoms when followed up seven to nine months after they left hospital with parents most often reporting fatigue (10%), sleep disturbances (7%) and sensory problems (6%). Older children appeared to be at greater risk than younger ones and a history of allergies may be a contributing factor, too.

Dr Daniel Munblit, a specialist in paediatrics and allergy at Sechenov University in Moscow, said that while the findings are preliminary, doctors should to take the prospect of long Covid in children seriously.

“This shows that there is a problem,” he said. “Fatigue is the commonest issue. We are not talking about fatigue for a day or two, we are talking about quite persistent fatigue and the cause of this fatigue needs to be determined.”

According to the study, 16% of the children had fatigue soon after leaving hospital, a figure that dropped to 12% within a few months. But from then on it declined far slower, with 11% of children still fatigued seven months later. More than 8% of children had a loss of smell on leaving hospital, and while this too improved over time, nearly 6% still reported problems seven months later.

Previous work from the Isaric group, submitted to the government’s Sage committee of experts, found that working-age women hospitalised with Covid are five times more likely to develop long Covid than men in the same age group. But while long Covid in adults is reasonably well established as a medical condition, there has been far less research on children who do not generally become severely ill with coronavirus.

In further work, the scientists asked parents to rate their children on a wellness scale before and after their stay in hospital. Those with no long Covid symptoms scored much the same after being discharged, but having one or more persistent symptoms significantly reduced wellness, the authors write.

“In some children, most definitely the parents acknowledge a reduction in wellness and I would think that to a certain degree it impacts on their daily life,” said Munblit.

Other hospitals, notably in Sweden and Italy, have recently reported cases of long Covid in children, but as with the latest study, the data came from single centres and includes small numbers of patients. How common, or rare, the problem may be in children will be the focus of a new study at UCL, which is investigating long Covid in 11- to 17-year-olds who are not hospitalised with the disease.

Frances Simpson, a psychology lecturer at Coventry University who contributed to the study, co-founded the charity Long Covid Kids, which represents more than 2,000 concerned parents of children with ongoing symptoms. Many have been ill for over a year.

“These families have faced the uncertainty and fear of a novel virus, often being disbelieved or told that the causes are psychological,” she said. “We have been campaigning since last year for research into this phenomenon, and are delighted that good quality research such as this is now being published. Hopefully this will lead to more research, more evidence, and better care for these children.”

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