By now, everyone knows about coronavirus, has likely been overwhelmed by the swift and drastic change it caused to our lifestyles, has felt confused or scared with seemingly contradictory advice from every angle, and ultimately determined to protect their family. As a pediatrician and mother myself, I have also experienced this range of emotions. Here’s what we know now about coronavirus in children based on the most recent evidence from the American Association of Pediatircs and Center for Disease Control and how you can protect your family as we move into the next phase of this worldwide pandemic.
One of the biggest questions surrounding coronavirus from the beginning has been, will this virus affect children and if so, how? This information has been gathered and studied right before our eyes. And to be completely transparent, we as the medical community are still not 100% sure. The coronavirus family of viruses has been around for years and is known to be one of the causes of the “common cold.” COVID-19 is a “novel” coronavirus, however, meaning a strain of this family of viruses that no one’s immune system has ever seen before.
We are learning in real-time how this particular strain of virus affects the human body and are learning now that it seems to affect the elderly, middle-aged adults, and children differently. Children make up only a small percentage of cases, and the severity of symptoms appears to range from completely asymptomatic, to mild, to more severe. The incubation period in children is similar to adults, and symptoms usually appear within 2-10 days after being exposed to the virus. As opposed to adults whose prominent symptoms are almost always some combination of fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath, children seem to have more non-specific symptoms. These can include fever, cough, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, and decreased appetite. These symptoms are also seen in many other, more common childhood illnesses.
If you are concerned your child has been potentially exposed to coronavirus and is exhibiting any combination of these symptoms, the best thing to do is call your child’s pediatrician’s office and seek medical advice about whether your child should be evaluated and how to do that safely.
Although the novel coronavirus is new, most of the measures we can take to protect our family and ourselves are not. They come from the same advice you have likely heard your pediatrician give you with many of the common childhood illnesses. That’s because, at the end of the day, the coronavirus is just that — a virus. Children’s immune systems are accustomed to being exposed to viruses and developing antibodies to help fight them off. That’s not to say that this particular virus is not a tougher foe, because it is. There are still a percentage of children who get more severe disease and require hospitalization. It’s important to stay alert, stay aware, and stay up to date. Here are some quick tips to keep your family healthy:
● Wash your hands often with soap and water and for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also appropriate.
● Avoid touching your face and encourage your children to do the same.
● Teach children to cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue and not into their hands.
● Boost your child’s immune system by ensuring they are eating three healthy meals per day, drinking plenty of water, getting restful sleep at night, and playing outside or being active for at least 60 minutes per day.
● Here is where the advice differs from the standard precautions recommended in the past and is more cautious as we continue to learn more about coronavirus: Continue to practice “social distancing” and avoid large crowds or gatherings if not necessary. If you must go out with your children to a crowded place, wear a facemask. According to the CDC, this also applies to children ages 2 and older. Children and infants under the age of 2 should NOT have face coverings of any kind, as this can cause suffocation.
Ultimately, as pediatricians, we want to continue to be your most trusted resource during the coronavirus pandemic. Don’t be afraid to call your child’s pediatrician’s office for questions or concerns. Most offices are taking extra precautions to keep your child safe. Checkups and immunizations are more important now than ever.