Israeli Study: 30% of Adults, 4% of Children Suffer From Long COVID

Shaare Zedek hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of the hospital. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Health Ministry research study has revealed that while around 30% of all those who recovered from the virus in Israel suffer from long COVID in the first six months following their recovery, 11.2% of children suffered from at least one symptom of long COVID.

Between 1.8% and 4.6% of children continued to suffer from long COVID over six months after recovering from the virus.

The Health Ministry’s findings are in line with that of other research studies performed around the world, according to which one in seven children will experience at least one symptom of long COVID in the first six months of recovery.

However, a new U.K. study found that, unlike adults, just 2% of children experience long COVID.

Ronit Calderon-Margalit of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Medicine explained: “What the [U.K.] researchers did was examine how many children have symptoms of long COVID after recovering from the disease compared to children who never fell ill. The findings demonstrated something interesting: When you ask only children who recovered from the virus, you get to a significant rate of around 14% who have symptoms of long COVID, with an emphasis on one symptom. But after presenting the same question to children who weren’t infected, they discovered that they too experienced one coronavirus symptom.

“In effect, out of 50,000 children who had not contracted the virus, 53% had one symptom, and among children who contracted the virus, the rate stood at 65%.” She said 16% of those who had not contracted the virus experienced two symptoms compared to 30% of those who had recovered from COVID-19.

According to Calderon-Margalit, the study made clear that some of the symptoms were “not necessarily related to the virus itself but were related to the general atmosphere, to the lockdowns, the quarantines. So, in reality, the number of children who suffered and experienced long COVID was very low.

“That’s good news,” she said. “I’m happy to discover that in contrast with initial concerns,” children do not experience long COVID to the same extent as adults, “where the damage is more severe.” She noted experts had yet to conclude whether the coronavirus vaccine prevented symptoms of long COVID.”

Dr. Liat Ashkenazi-Hoffnung, the director of Day Care Hospitalizations at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center, said that “as far as the prevalence of the coronavirus, we have two significant studies from England and the Health Ministry in Israel, and three studies that were carried out with more or less the same method. What we can learn from them is that 4% of children will develop long COVID symptoms that need to be treated.”

She explained: “There are a few central symptoms, which are chest pain, sleep apnea, fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches that cannot be treated with regular pain medicine. Likewise, there is dizziness, muscle pain, joint pain, hair loss. We also see symptoms related to the individual’s digestive system, as in vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, the loss of the sense of taste and smell, or smelling burned food. In some instances, children become extremely picky with food, and therefore barely eat anything, and there is even extreme weight loss of 20 kg,” she said.

Asked why people experience long COVID, she noted several explanations, including infection, but said her hospital had seen no evidence of this in children.

“The more logical explanation is that there is damage to the autonomic nervous system associated with the heart, the lungs, and various systems spread out across the body, and that is also why there are so many side effects,” she said.

“It is also important to note that I’m not talking about seriously ill patients who are hospitalized, who experienced noticeable damage to their organs. I’m talking about people who were moderately ill or who weren’t ill at all and experienced these symptoms. That is why the question is what happened, and we assume that it’s a type of damage to this peripheral nervous system.”