If your child brings home an uneaten packed lunch it could be a sign of coronavirus, scientists have warned.
More than a third of school-aged children with the disease suffer from a loss of appetite that prompts them to skip meals.
Parents and teachers are now being warned to look out for lesser-known symptoms of the disease as schools go back and the risk of infection goes up.
A team from King’s College London have been monitoring hundreds of infected children using a Covid-19 symptom tracker mobile app.
They found the majority of youngsters who test positive do not show classic signs of the virus, such as a persistent cough, fever or loss of smell.
They instead found most youngsters with the virus tended to skip meals, suffer headaches and feel exhausted.
The app also found one in six under-18s break out in skin rashes that are usually very itchy.
The NHS currently only advises people get a test if they have a fever, a continuous cough and a loss of smell or taste.
A third of children with coronavirus skip meals due to a loss of appetite, researchers from King’s College London say (file)
More and more Covid-19 symptoms are being reported as doctors and scientists learn more about the virus which emerged from obscurity just months ago.
KCL researchers have identified at least 20, which range from from mild sore throats and dry coughs to breakouts of rashes and even psychosis.
The team running the ‘Covid-19 Symptom Tracker’ app have been collecting data from people self-reporting symptoms and test results for months.
‘NO HEALTHY CHILD HAS DIED FROM COVID-19 IN BRITAIN’
Healthy children do not die of coronavirus and only those who were seriously ill before they caught the disease are at risk, a major government-funded study has confirmed.
No healthy child has died of the virus yet in the UK, researchers said.
Six children have died but all had other serious health problems such as cancer or cerebral palsy when they were struck down by Covid-19.
Research found that the risk to children is ‘strikingly low’, only a tiny proportion of them end up in hospital and deaths are ‘exceptionally rare’.
Six children under the age of 15 have died of coronavirus in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic, along with nine 15 to 19-year-olds. This compares with 52,082 victims in all other age groups up to August 14, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Scientists led by the University of Liverpool found that one per cent of hospitalised children died, compared to a significantly higher 27 per cent of adults. This means that while one in four adults who ended up in hospital with Covid-19 died of it, only one in 100 children did.
The research, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal, comes amid a fiery debate about whether children in England should return to school in September, with critics saying there is not enough evidence they will be safe.
Parents should be reassured that their children will not be put in danger by returning to school, the scientists who led the study said.
Professor Calum Semple, an expert in outbreak medicine and child health at the University of Liverpool who led the study, said: ‘Severe disease is rare and death is vanishingly rare.
‘They should be confident that their children are not going to be put at direct harm by going back to school and we do know that they are harmed by being kept away from school because of the lack of educational opportunities, and that’s affecting mental health.’
They have had more than a quarter of a million school-aged children sign up and use the app with the help of their parents.
The findings are based on data from 198 children with positive tests and 15,800 negative tests. It makes it one of the biggest research pools in the UK.
The team found over half (52 per cent) of infected children didn’t log any classic symptoms affecting adults – such as a cough, fever or loss of smell.
A third of children carrying Covid-19 showed no signs of infection, reinforcing previous findings that many are asymptomatic.
The top five symptoms in under-18s with the virus were fatigue (55 per cent) headaches (53 per cent), fever (49 per cent), sore throat (38 per cent) and loss of appetite (35 per cent).
The app also found that one in six (15 per cent) children who tested positive suffered a skin rash.
This was different compared to the app’s data on adults; fatigue (87 per cent), headache (72 per cent), loss of smell (60 per cent), persistent cough (54 per cent) and sore throats (49 per cent).
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at KCL and creator of the Covid app, said: ‘Getting children back to school and keeping them in school is a priority, so it is essential that we understand how Covid-19 affects children and highlight the potential differences.
‘Knowing that children present less often with respiratory symptoms and are more likely to be suffering from headaches, fatigue and skin rashes, will help parents make the right decisions to keep them at home until they feel better.
‘This is a stressful time for all and if we can get as many parents to log for their children as possible we will have a much clearer picture of COVID within local schools across the UK allowing us to keep schools open and children learning.’
It comes after a study by researchers in Northern Ireland last week found diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps were much more common in Covid-19-positive children than adults.
The symptoms, which do not feature among the three listed by the NHS, have also been found to be relatively common in adults.
Officials have said, however, that they are too vague and that the system would be overwhelmed with worried people if everyone with a stomach ache thought they had Covid-19.
Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast say the gut-related signs are so strongly linked to the illness in children that they should be considered.
But coughing – one of the top symptoms in adults who go on to become seriously ill – was not a reliable indicator of whether a child had coronavirus, they said.
Dr Tom Waterfield, from Queen’s, told the BBC: ‘We are finding that diarrhoea and vomiting is a symptom reported by some children and I think adding it to the list of known symptoms is worth considering.’
Dr Waterfield and colleagues studied 992 children, of whom 68 had coronavirus. They had an average age of 10 years old.
Counting gastrointestinal symptoms – those affecting the stomach and bowels – would have significantly improved how many of the children could be diagnosed.
One of the key decisions health bosses have to make when deciding what is an official symptom is how many of the people with that symptom will actually have the disease, and how many will have something else.
They should also take into account whether the majority of people with the disease – in this case Covid-19 – could be found without including the symptom.
Only 34 of the children who had coronavirus in the Northern Irish researchers’ study had any symptoms.
By looking at children with fever, coughs and changes in smell or taste – the official Covid-19 symptoms – scientists correctly identified 76 per cent of children with the coronavirus.
When they added children who had stomach problems, however, this rose to 97 per cent – 33 out of the 34.
Because so many children didn’t get symptoms, and many of those who did did not have common ones, the experts said most of them wouldn’t ever be diagnosed.