Children represent a small percentage of positive COVID-19 infections at 9.1%, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. While the percentage is low, it still represents over 380,000 young people, including over 7,200 cumulative cases in Michigan. While most children do not suffer the impact of symptoms as severely as adults, there are non-symptomatic residual effects that exacerbate other health issues.
Symptoms in children
There is not a set of symptoms that appears in children beyond those observed in adults who contract COVID-19, even though fever is the most common symptom among infected young people. In information published in late July, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions specifically stated that fever is also associated with many other childhood illnesses and while it is a coronavirus symptom, its presence should not be automatically linked to COVID-19.
The small percentage of childhood infections substantiates the CDC report that children are less likely to contract the coronavirus than adults. Deaths are rare, although multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) may occur. MIS-C causes inflammation in certain organs, such as the heart, brain, kidneys, organs in the gastrointestinal system and others. The cause of this infrequent condition is not known but when it occurs, the child has generally had symptoms associated with the virus that causes COVID-19 or has had contact with someone infected with the virus.
Beyond fever, other symptoms that may appear in children include cough, diarrhea, fatigue, shortness of breath or sore throat. In addition, nausea or vomiting, muscle or body aches, cough and congestion or runny nose are possible. As with fever, many of these symptoms also appear with other illnesses, especially in young children.
Non-symptomatic issues for children
The impact of COVID-19 on children extends beyond symptoms and whether they may become infected personally. The economic realities of the virus can result in more children living in financially distressed environments, thus limiting access to basic health care. The United Nations Children’s Fund released information this month regarding the peripheral impact that includes inconsistent medical care and check-ups and malnutrition due to parents losing income. The mental and emotional impact of closed schools and social distancing is also an issue.
Among other concerns for children who are not diagnosed are the possibilities of families being pushed into poverty, increased occurrence of violence, absence of internet access limiting virtual learning and school closures that eliminate classroom education.
Prevention and protection of others
It is not only important to protect children from COVID-19, but steps should be taken to prevent them from spreading it. To help children avoid contracting the virus, parents and teachers should be good role models. If children see adults washing their hands, wearing masks and maintaining social distance, they are more likely to adopt that safe behavior. Physical activity is also helpful, mentally and emotionally, for children. If outdoor exercise is not possible, indoor activity breaks that involve movement are a solution. As with adults, a proper diet and adequate rest also help.
To prevent spreading COVID-19, CDC recommends that children over 2 years old wear masks. In person playtime with other children should be limited and monitored by adults, and they should not interact with anyone who is at high risk due to age or chronic medical condition.
If a child shows COVID-19 symptoms, a physician should be notified immediately and preparations for an examination should be made. It is also imperative to make medical professionals examining or treating the child aware that COVID-19 symptoms are present before they see the child so appropriate safety measures are taken for themselves and workers or patients who may be nearby.
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Dr. Omar P. Haqqani is the chief of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery at Vascular Health Clinics in Midland: www.vascularhealthclinics.org