Reports of children with coronavirus symptoms in Gloucestershire skyrocketed in September as the schools went back, NHS figures show.
A leading professor of paediatric immunology said children remain relatively unaffected by Covid, despite the number with symptoms across England increasing by almost tenfold when term started.
NHS England data shows 2,131 cases when those aged 18 and under were logged with possible Covid-19 symptoms in the NHS Gloucestershire CCG area in September – eight times more than in August.
This was the second-highest monthly total recorded for children, behind only the 2,269 who reported symptoms in March when the outbreak began.
In September, the vast majority (74%) of reports for children were done through NHS 111 online assessments, with the remaining 26% over the phone.
Across England, the number of children being reported with symptoms rose from just 21,000 in August to 186,000 in September.
Saul Faust, professor of paediatric immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, said children and family members always have respiratory viral symptoms in the autumn/ winter.
A rise in symptoms being reported, and tests requested, is what most experts would therefore have predicted, he said.
He added: “Children remain relatively unaffected by Covid – but there is no choice but to test on symptoms as otherwise cases will be missed.
“Parents are not overanxious – they are asking for tests per national guidance.
“The problem and solution has not changed since the start of the pandemic – we need a testing system, and track and trace alongside it, that has capacity and is effective.”
Official guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care says parents should only book a test if their child has a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss of smell or taste.
But they do not need one if they have just a runny nose, are sneezing or are feeling unwell.
In Gloucestershire, the number of adult users logging symptoms also increased significantly between August and September – from 1,270 to 3,384 – but this was not as steep as the rise among children.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam said the infection data shows “intense transmission” of infections for 17 to 18-year-olds, but very low rates of increase for those up to the age of 16.
Speaking at a briefing given by the country’s top scientists, Professor Van-Tam added: “So the evidence that there is significant transmission in schools is not really borne out by the increased infection rates.
“And indeed we already know that children are not drivers of infection and spread in the community in the same way that we know they are for influenza, for example, hence our children’s flu vaccine programme which is so important, and therefore it’s a different illness that we are dealing with.”
An NHS spokeswoman said: “We encourage the public to continue to use NHS 111 as their first port of call for medical help, and stress the importance of following government guidelines on social distancing and hand hygiene to reduce the spread of the virus.”