It's not just adults, now children are being hit by long-term Covid too

It has, almost since the start of the pandemic, been the mantra of experts when it comes to Covid-19 and the threat it poses to children: they're more likely to get hit by a bus than suffer severely from the virus.

And so in April, when Lois Benson's two young sons developed a cough and a slight temperature, she was initially unconcerned. 'I just gave them Calpol,' says the 46-year-old air ambulance manager from Aldridge in the West Midlands. But Toby, seven, and Josh, six, went downhill rapidly.

'At first, 111 [the NHS's non-emergency helpline] told me to stay at home, but they just seemed to get worse and worse,' she recalls. Finally, with the boys 'almost unresponsive' in bed, with temperatures soaring to 40C, she called 999. They were taken to hospital by ambulance, where they were given oxygen and kept in overnight.

Lois admits that while sitting by their hospital beds she had feared the worst – and when they pulled through, the relief was indescribable. But, shockingly, this wasn't the end of their ordeal.

Now, seven months on, Toby and Josh are still suffering, sleeping constantly and unable to go back to school. The boys have developed serious stutters, complained of headaches and have begun repeating words over and over again.

Toby and Josh Benson are still suffering, sleeping constantly and unable to go back to school seven months after battling coronavirus in hospital

Toby and Josh Benson are still suffering, sleeping constantly and unable to go back to school seven months after battling coronavirus in hospital

'Just when I thought they were getting better, they went downhill again,' says Lois. 'I've been caring for them non-stop for seven months now and I'm terrified they'll never be well again.'

It seems that Toby and Josh, who were 'normal, active, fun-loving children before all this', are among the youngest victims of what many are calling long Covid – a collection of debilitating symptoms that linger for weeks or even months after the initial infection has subsided. Despite thousands of adults reporting such problems, doctors seem mystified and unable to find anything physically wrong with them.

And the worried parents of youngsters with the condition tell a similar story: many have been told their children are simply suffering from anxiety or growing pains.

'It's been so overwhelming,' said one parent of a teenager who has been suffering symptoms since first becoming sick in March. 'We have a child chronically ill and absolutely no support. Nobody can tell us what is wrong with her.'

The Mail on Sunday was among the first to report on the long Covid phenomenon back in May, but it has now received scientific attention, with results from a UK study published last week showing that one in 20 Covid sufferers has experienced symptoms more than three months after infection. Problems vary, but adults have commonly reported fatigue, breathing problems, heart palpitations and brain fog.

The study, carried out by Professor Tim Spector, a genetics expert at King's College London, collected information from 4.2 million users of the Covid Symptom Study app – but it does not include data on under-18s. The NHS has announced plans to provide specialist services for patients with long Covid but, at present, none of these clinics will be open to children.

'This is a massive blind spot,' says Dr Nigel Speight, a paediatric specialist in chronic fatigue syndrome. 'If adults can have long Covid, then children can too.'

Now, for the first time, a small-scale survey has provided a clearer picture of the impact of long Covid on families across the country.

Frances Simpson, whose two children have been unwell since catching the virus in March, polled parents on social media groups asking if their children had experienced similar symptoms. In all, 162 parents responded, of whom 86 per cent stated their children had ongoing symptoms more than three months after exhibiting the first signs of infection. Frances, a psychology lecturer at Coventry University, hopes her findings will spur further research.

She said: 'This problem can affect children, badly.'

Frances caught Covid-19 in March, and a while later so did both her children. Her ten-year-old son, Magnus, suffered a temperature, insomnia, headache, back pain and a metallic taste in his mouth. A few days later her nine-year-old daughter, Saskia, came down with the virus, and for weeks was unable to eat and had to be helped out of bed by her mother.

'The whole thing was traumatic,' says Frances. 'I worried they weren't going to get better.'

After a month their symptoms subsided but, in a pattern described by many long Covid sufferers, soon returned. Saskia began having breathing problems and rashes broke out across her body.

Frances took her daughter to a paediatrician, who diagnosed eczema. Another doctor gave Saskia a blood test but said there was nothing to be concerned about. 

Results from a UK study carried out by Professor Tim Spector, pictured, published last week, show that one in 20 Covid sufferers has experienced symptoms more than three months after infection

Results from a UK study carried out by Professor Tim Spector, pictured, published last week, show that one in 20 Covid sufferers has experienced symptoms more than three months after infection

Frances says her

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