COVID-19 and Kids: What you need to know
In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it (now officially named SARS-CoV-2) has changed life as we know it. The rapid spread of the pandemic across the globe, together with regularly changing public health alerts and prevention advice, has left many parents confused and anxious about what they can or should be doing to protect their children.
While there’s still a lot to learn about this virus, what we do know to date, and what we wants families to take some comfort in is that children make up a very small proportion of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide.
Here’s a breakdown of the current clinical facts you need to know, so you can be aware of and informed about COVID-19 but not alarmed.
How many kids have gotten sick so far?
While children can catch the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19, the data which has come out of China (>70,000 cases), Italy (>20,000 cases) and Korea (>7000 cases) has consistently reported only around one per cent of confirmed cases occurring in children (under 10 years).
“Importantly, the published data also suggests that children tend to have less severe cases of COVID-19 than adults,” says Children’s Health Queensland Infectious Diseases Senior Medical Officer Adam Irwin. “In most cases the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough, but also milder cases of pneumonia sometimes requiring hospitalisation.”
“Severe complications in children are uncommon,” Dr Irwin adds.
When it comes to those who get seriously unwell, the numbers are clear. About one half of all adults with critical illness (predominantly elderly people with chronic conditions) have died, whereas to date very few deaths in children have been reported worldwide.
Are infants more at risk?
“Recent claims that infants are at similar risk to adults are not supported by the evidence we currently have,” Dr Irwin says. Approximately 10% of babies appear to need admission to hospital to receive oxygen, in a similar way to other winter viruses. These are important and serious infections, but these babies almost all recover without needing support from intensive care. This is very different to the experience in the elderly, particularly those with existing health problems.
What about children with complex and chronic conditions?
As SARS-CoV-2 is a new strain of the coronavirus, there is little information available about the impact it might have on children with complex and chronic medical conditions. “However, there are encouraging reports that even children with serious underlying conditions will mostly only experience a mild illness with COVID-19. This is reinforced by data from liver transplant units and from children’s cancer centres,” Dr Irwin said.
It is likely that children with underlying respiratory conditions will be at increased risk of COVID-19 as is often the case with other viral infections.
“It’s important to note that, so far, children with confirmed COVID-19 have contracted it from a family member or via close contact with a confirmed case. It is therefore crucial for every family member to take the recommended infection prevention precautions to reduce the risk of a child with a complex and/or chronic condition getting the disease.”
Parents and carers should contact their child’s specialist care team for tailored advice and information about their specific condition.
Here is the video about Caring for Children with Complex Medical Conditions During COVID-19 American Academy of Pediatrics
What about children who are immunocompromised?
Children whose immune systems have been compromised due to medical treatment (such as chemotherapy, organ transplants, current use of immunosuppressive medications etc) are more at risk from the common cold, the flu and other infections,
and are potentially more at risk of developing a serious infection from COVID-19.
Until the medical world has more information about COVID-19, it’s important to take the same precautions currently being recommended for elderly people and other vulnerable groups (basic hand and respiratory hygiene practices, social distancing and possibly isolation).
We recommend discussing your child’s current level of immunosuppression with their specialist to form the best plan for your child for the coming months.
Are children ‘super-spreaders’ of the coronavirus?
While we all know kids, especially younger ones, are not great at keeping their hands and bodily fluids to themselves at the best of times, there is so far no evidence to suggest they are so-called super-spreaders of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (COVID-19). Some asymptomatic (showing no signs or symptoms) infections have occurred in children but it’s too early to say how often this occurs. However, almost all the reported infections in children have been traced to an adult in the same household. This suggests that children have been infected by close prolonged contact with adults and not by contact with other children.
While it’s important to note there is still some uncertainty around the role children play in the transmission of COVID-19, it is most likely that children, with mostly mild or asymptomatic infections are not very effective spreaders of the virus. Of course, this risk can be reduced even further with careful attention to hand hygiene and cleaning, particularly in children who may have symptoms.
How can I help prevent my child getting COVID-19?
Good hand and respiratory hygiene are the single most effective preventative weapons we have in the battle against COVID-19 and SARS-Cov-2.
Teach your children to:
- Wash their hands with soap and water often and thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds) to prevent viruses entering their body. This includes after being out in public, before eating, and after going to the toilet.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow (and wash their hands, and put the tissue in the bin afterwards).
- Try not to touch their face.
- Try to stay at least 1.5 metres away from people who are coughing or sneezing. (Even if they don’t have COVID-19, they might have germs you don’t want any way!)
Don’t let fear put your child’s health at risk
If your child is feeling unwell and you think they need to be seen by a doctor, especially in an emergency, there is no need to be concerned about the risk of them picking up the SARS-Cov-2 virus in a hospital, practice or other healthcare facility. Strict infection control measures (including personal protective equipment like masks and gowns, intensive cleaning routines and isolation procedures) are in place to protect everyone – children, families and staff. If your child requires urgent care or has an important procedure or treatment due, do not delay bringing them to hospital. Similarly, if your child is on prescribed medication as part of their treatment or homecare, it is important that they continue taking their medication.
Be assured, the paediatric medical community is working tirelessly to ensure that children with COVID-19 are treated effectively and safely alongside children presenting with other important acute and chronic conditions.
What should I do if my child develops symptoms of COVID-19?
If your child develops any of the symptoms of COVID-19 and:
- has returned from overseas in the past 14 days, or
- someone in your household has returned from overseas in the past 14 days, or
- has been in contact with a person with confirmed coronavirus,
go to your nearest COVID-19 testing centre or ‘fever clinic’. You do not need to phone ahead.