Long COVID Is Uncommon in Children, Study Finds

Tired child wearing a face mask.

Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • New research finds that long COVID is less common in children than adults.
  • Most children with COVID-19 recover in a week or less, without lingering symptoms.
  • Doctors warn that children still need to be protected from the virus, even if the course of the disease tends to be less severe.

Since early July, hospitalizations for children with COVID-19 have slowly climbed nationwide, likely due to the highly transmissible Delta variant. But rising cases don't necessarily equate to severe infections in children. In fact, lingering symptoms after a COVID-19 infection—also called long COVID—are not common in children, according to new research.

The August study, which was published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, analyzed data from March 2020 through to February 2021 from the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app, which tracks the spread of COVID-19 in the U.K., along with symptoms.

What Is Long COVID?

Long COVID, which is referred to in the medical community as “post-COVID conditions,” is an umbrella term for the range of physical and mental symptoms that some patients experience four or more weeks after being infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The researchers specifically analyzed data logged by parents or caregivers on behalf of children between the ages of five and 17.

They found that 1,734 children had a clear start and endpoint for their symptoms, along with a positive COVID-19 PCR test. In most cases, kids between the ages of five and 11 were sick for five days. Older children—those aged 12 to 17—tended to be sick for seven days.

Less than one in 20 (or 4.4%) had symptoms for four weeks or more, while one in 50 (1.8%) had symptoms that lasted longer than eight weeks.

In the study, children usually experienced six different COVID-19 symptoms in the first week, and around eight different symptoms during the entire time they were sick. There were no reports of serious neurological issues like fits, seizures, difficulty concentrating, trouble paying attention, and anxiety. Some of the most common symptoms included headaches, fatigue, sore throat, and loss of smell.

“Although COVID-19 in children is usually of short duration with low symptom burden, some children with COVID-19 experience prolonged illness duration,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Reassuringly, symptom burden in these children did not increase with time, and most recovered by day 56.”

The same team of researchers previously conducted an analysis of ZOE COVID Symptom Study data in adults who tested positive for the virus. That study found that one in seven adults with COVID-19 had symptoms of the virus that lasted at least four weeks. One in 20 adults in the study with COVID-19 was sick for eight weeks or more.

What This Means For You

While long COVID is rare in children, this is still not an illness you want your child to get. Experts recommend that parents do their best to try to prevent their children from getting infected in the first place, including wearing masks in crowded places and practicing good hand hygiene.

Doctors Are Not Surprised

Infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Verywell that he’s “not surprised” to see that long COVID is less common in children than adults.

“Children have been generally spared all of the severe consequences of COVID-19 infection,” he says. “Early reports of long COVID did identify older age as being something more common in those patients.”

It “makes sense” that fewer children would develop long COVID symptoms “because of the nature of COVID-19 that we see in kids,” Danelle Fisher, MD, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, tells Verywell. “For the most part, kids have minor symptoms—it’s pretty rare that they get really sick. If you extrapolate that forward, it can help explain why we’re not seeing as much long COVID in them.”

Still, it’s important for parents to try to protect their children from getting infected, Richard Watkins, MD, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Verywell.

“You still don't want your child to get COVID-19,” he says. “Multisystem inflammatory syndrome can be a serious complication of COVID-19 in kids. I strongly encourage all unvaccinated children to wear masks indoors.”

If your child contracts COVID-19, Fisher recommends monitoring them closely. And, if your child develops what appears to be symptoms of long COVID, she suggests talking to your child’s pediatrician and trying to get your child to a local academic center that is studying long COVID in children for help.

Still, Fisher says, it’s “very reassuring for parents to know that, if a child tests positive for COVID-19, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll have long COVID.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Evaluating and Caring for Patients with Post-COVID Conditions: Interim Guidance.

  2. Molteni E, Sudre C, Canas L et al. Illness duration and symptom profile in symptomatic UK school-aged children tested for SARS-CoV-2. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2021. doi:10.1016/s2352-4642(21)00198-x

By Korin Miller
Korin Miller is a health and lifestyle journalist who has been published in The Washington Post, Prevention, SELF, Women's Health, The Bump, and Yahoo, among other outlets.