Parents are probably worried about what will happen if their child is infected with COVID-19. Children may be considered vulnerable due to immature immune systems and may not be eligible for most of the treatments and immunizations available to older children and adults.
The good news is, most babies get mild illness. Here’s what to expect if your baby’s test is positive.
Can I save my baby if I have Covid-19?
If you test positive, and have a newborn or baby at home, you can take some protective measures. These include washing hands before providing care, and wearing a mask during breastfeeding or close contact. Current evidence suggests that Covid-19 cannot be spread through breast milk.
It is still important to continue breastfeeding (if you already do) and there is no need to separate mother and baby.
Infections from older siblings and other close acquaintances can be reduced by vaccination. Vaccinating parents and carers will also reduce their risk of serious illness, which will reduce the risk and disruption of mother and baby.
What should I do if my baby has a cold or fever?
Testing your baby is like testing yourself. Children can often have a PCR test at the same place where you will be tested, or you can use a rapid antigen test (RAT) on them.
If you use an RAT, it is important to check for the correct age, as not all RATs can be used for children. It will say on the packet whether it is suitable. Otherwise ask your pharmacist for the correct test for your child’s age.
It’s also important to follow specific instructions for the test you buy, because not all will be the same.
COVID-19 is usually mild in children
Throughout the epidemic, children of all ages are less likely to be infected than adults. The risk of serious illness also seems to be lower with the Omicron than with the previous variants, although later variants have more infections.
From our clinical experience and international research, most of the children infected with COVID-19 have had mild disease. The need for hospitalization or intensive care is extremely unusual. Children are at higher risk if they have a premature or other underlying serious illness or condition. Studies describing COVID-19 in newborns reflect that, like other respiratory viruses such as influenza and RSV, death is very rare.
A range of immune systems for newborns has been proposed to explain why babies are more likely to develop less serious illnesses. Although there is no vaccine for babies, antibodies are transferred from mothers vaccinated during pregnancy to newborns, which may provide protection.
What symptoms do children usually get?
Children with covid-19 may show a variety of symptoms similar to other respiratory viruses. Up to 25% of babies may have no symptoms at all.
Fever, nasal congestion, difficulty feeding and cough are more common symptoms.
Shortness of breath, lethargy and persistent fever can be symptoms of a serious illness.
How do I treat it?
If you have a fever or discomfort you can give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen and nasal saline drops can reduce congestion. If you are considering giving medicine to a child under three months of age, please consult your GP.
When should I consult a doctor?
If your baby has any of the following, talk to your doctor:
Any newborn fever up to three months of age requires a medical review, it is important to consider whether the baby has covid.
Anything else I should know?
Especially when we enter the winter, it is important to protect against other common transmission viruses that can infect children, such as influenza. Babies over six months of age can get the influenza vaccine.
(Author: Shidan Tosif, Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, University of Melbourne and Sarah McNab, Honorary Fellow of Pediatrics, General Director of Medicine, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute)
Disclosure Statement: The authors do not work for, advise, share or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article and do not disclose any relevant relationship outside of their academic appointments.
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