Last updated: March 19, 2020
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a hot topic of discussion as well as the reason for many temporary isolating measures. This global pandemic has caused many schools around the world to close, borders to be sealed and many to go into self-isolation.
Yet this virus can be a scary topic of conversation for adults and especially children. The latest CDC recommendations advise against groups of larger than 50 and to maintain social distancing (at least 6 feet) at all times. So how can we assure our children that everything is okay when life seems so different?
We asked Dr. Richard Honaker for his medical advice on keeping young children safe during the coronavirus outbreak.
What is the CoronaVirus?
Coronaviruses are actually a group of viruses that includes the common cold as well as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
The Coronavirus strain that is making headlines is a Novel Coronavirus, which is a new strain that has not been seen in humans previously. This is because coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted between animals and humans.
Many will initially show no symptoms after exposure. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), a German government disease control and prevention agency, the new virus has an incubation period of 14 days.
Symptoms of the Novel Coronavirus
Since we are deep into the cold and flu season, parents could worry that each cough or sneeze could indicate their child is infected with something more sinister than the common cold. Here are some common symptoms that can help determine the difference between a cold, the flu and the coronavirus.
According to the CDC, the common symptoms of COVID-19 can appear about 2-14 days after exposure:
- Shortness of breath
If you experience the emergency symptoms of Coronavirus it is important to seek emergency treatment immediately
These symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
While many of the symptoms closely mimic the common cold or flu, coronavirus can be serious. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
The typical cold viruses live in the nose so the symptoms are often mainly nose congestion and running with some coughing. The corona virus lives in the windpipe (trachea) and lungs mainly and therefore the symptoms will be more cough and chest symptoms rather than nasal. There is overlap so if a cold seems unusually severe or is progressing fast, consider coronavirus as the cause.
How is Coronavirus spread?
The coronavirus is most often spread by close person to person contact. The virus can be spread through respiratory droplets that are put into the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets are put into the air and can enter the mouth or nose or eyes of another person or can be inhaled into the windpipe (trachea) or lungs.
Can Coronavirus Spread without any Symptoms?
Typically, those with respiratory viruses are the most contagious when they are showing the most symptoms. With this coronavirus, people have spread the virus from close personal contact when they were not experiencing any symptoms.
Can you Get the Virus from Infected Surfaces?
According to the CDC, it is possible to get the virus if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth. This is not believed to be the main way that the virus spreads. However, this is one of the reasons that healthcare professionals are urging the population to diligently wash their hands and avoid touching their face.
Read next: Advice from a doctor: Living with HPV
Do Parents Need to Worry?
While very young children do have compromised immune systems, research shows that seniors have the highest risk of dying from the coronavirus. While some have pegged the fatality rate of the virus between 3 and 4 %, this number comes from taking the number of confirmed cases and dividing it by the number of fatalities. It is actually vice versa in the division. Many experts believe there are many more cases that are going unconfirmed so the percentages may not be that high . These cases may be going undetected because their symptoms are mild and do not require medical intervention.
How can I talk to My kids about Coronavirus?
Right now it is important to stay calm and minimize your child’s fears. This does not mean that parents should allow their children to do activities that could potentially compromise their health or the health of those around them. It simply means that children still need comfort from those around them. It may mean that you do not discuss the current situation around your young children or allow them to watch the news. It does not mean that you should not discuss the situation with your children in age-appropriate language. Explain simply without causing unnecessary panic.
Children are not completely immune to COVID-19, but the low incidence of pediatric infection suggests some protection. While it is not known why, it seems that children are not getting seriously ill from the Coronavirus.
So it may be calming and reassuring to let your children know that while the virus can be dangerous for older or immune-compromised people in the world, kids usually don’t get very sick.
How does the Virus Affect Babies?
While the information is still in its early stages, babies have been born with COVID-19. It is believed to be more likely that the newborn was exposed after birth instead of in the womb. The good news is that the babies that have tested positive for the virus have generally had mild symptoms and a good recovery.
Parents of young babies should still consider their weak immune systems. According to Dr. Honaker, newborns retain maternal antibodies which offer some protection until approximately 3 months of age when the antibodies start going away as the infants make their own antibodies.
How Can We Protect Our Kids?
Right now many countries are putting different protection measures in place based on the current level of infection in your area. Some schools, community centers and large events have been cancelled. Most areas are practicing ‘social distancing’ which includes maintaining a six foot distance between people and only going outside the home when completely necessary.
It is also necessary to wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. Avoid touching your face and spending time with anyone experiencing any signs of illness.
The average person touches their face up to 3000 times a day. Germs enter the body very easily though the mouth, eyes and nose.
While hand sanitizer is not recommended for children, it can be a good tool for cleaning your own hands before handling your child if you are unable to wash your hands.
Practicing good hand washing techniques is also important for both you and your baby. Babies love to put their hands in their mouths so try as much as possible to make sure your baby’s hands are cleaned regularly.
Avoid touching your face as much as possible and wash your hands regularly. It is also best to use disposable towels when drying one’s hands afterward.
Also choose best practices if you become ill from spreading a virus to your child. Use a tissue when coughing or sneezing and dispose of it afterwards.
Avoid the Waiting Room
Many parents don’t realize that in most cases, the common cold and flu does not require a trip to the doctor’s office. That is because viral infections do not require antibiotics, only bacterial infections do. Avoid your next trip to the doctor’s office by chatting with a doctor online within minutes from the comforts of home.
Your Doctors Online puts a doctor in your pocket 24 hours a day. You can chat with a real doctor within minutes. Ask your health questions, share your symptoms, and stay out of the waiting room.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.
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