CCU079: Investigating the diagnoses of conditions among children in England following SARS-CoV-2 infections compared to general respiratory infections

Project lead:
Katharine Looker & Eleanor Walsh, University of Bristol

COVID-19 infection (also known as Covid, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection) is mostly mild in children and young people. When someone continues to have symptoms weeks after their COVID-19 infection, this is known as long-COVID. Previous studies, and an online discussion group with families affected by long-COVID, have shown that these long-lasting symptoms are wide-ranging and can be severe. Some children and young people develop a new condition since having long-COVID.

At the moment we don’t know:

  • How many children and young people with COVID-19 infection go on to develop long-COVID.
  • Which new diagnoses of other conditions (such as heart conditions, or problems with breathing) are associated with long-COVID.
  • Which groups of children and young people have the highest risk of developing long-COVID and associated conditions.

We are now in the UK Government’s “Living with COVID” phase, which means much less testing for COVID-19 infection is happening. Instead, doctors assess patients solely on the basis of symptoms such as fever. However, many different infections can cause similar symptoms to COVID-19, and they too can have lingering health effects. We would like to find out in what ways the healthcare needs for long-COVID in children and young people are different to those for long-term health effects from other infections.

This research will tell us which diagnoses children and young people with COVID-19 infection may go on to have. It will also tell us what makes some children more likely to develop these conditions compared to other children (e.g., older children, or those with pre-existing illnesses like asthma). Finally, we will compare our findings to those for long-term effects of other infections, to see in what ways long-COVID is different. We will use health record data for school-aged children (4-18 years) for the whole of England to carry out our research.

The results of this study will help us know which diagnoses children and young people have following COVID-19 infection, how many children and young people are affected, and what made them more likely to develop these conditions. If we know these things, we can plan healthcare services better. Doctors will have more information to help answer the questions families have about long-COVID. They will also be able to have more informed conversations with families and offer better care and advice to children and young people who have, or who are more likely to get, long-COVID.