As Indians brace themselves and navigate through the 21-day lockdown period announced by the government to curb coronavirus, a big challenge for all parents is to keep their children in the confines of their homes, thereby ensuring that they do not infect others or themselves with the virus.
So far, the only wafer-thin silver lining attached to the gloom of the spreading virus has been that kids have been least affected by it. In India, in fact, there has only been one confirmed case where a child had tested positive of Covid-19 in Kerela. However, it is increasingly becoming obvious that children are not immune to the virus. In Los Angeles, a teen died of coronavirus this week, and there have been several cases across the world where young kids have been severely affected.
Leera Lobo, Developmental Pediatrician at Nanavati Super Specialty Hospital and Ummeed Child Development Center said, “Studies have shown increased severity of the virus in infants and young children (less than 5 years).”
“Children with chronic heart/lungs/kidney diseases or leukaemias are also at a higher risk of being affected because of their compromised immune systems and frequent visits to hospitals/health care facilities.” added the doctor.
According to a Forbes report, Dr Andrea Cruz, an associate professor of Paediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, who co-authored a new study titled ‘Epidemiological Characteristics of 2143 Pediatric Patients With 2019 Coronavirus Disease in China’ stated that “more than 60 per cent of the 125 children who became severely ill or critically ill were age 5 or younger. Forty of those were infants less than 12 months old.”
“However, so far, kids in general, have been either spared or were less severely affected by the virus. Studies done in China show no conclusive evidence behind this anomaly, although Infectious disease experts at the American Academy of Pediatrics offer two reasons that may be the cause for kids being less affected,” said Lobo.
“Firstly, the Immune response of children to the virus may be different as the immune system in children is young and evolving. Receptor for the virus in children may be different. Another reason can be that young children have less exposure to the virus compared to adults as they usually move in protected environments and travel less,” pointed out the paediatrician.
A third reason why children seem less prone to contract the virus could be because they have antibodies that protect them against the virus, propounded Consulting Paediatrician of Apollo Clinic (Colaba), Nehal Shah.
“Children are quite likely to have cross infections with a lot of other viruses because they are generally more susceptible to such infections. So, they produce antibodies, which may be cross-reacting now, and acting as a protective shield against the corona antigen in their bodies,” said Shah.
However, the doctor warned that just because they are being less affected, doesn’t mean that there won’t be dangerous consequences of them contracting the virus.
Silent carriers of corona
Children can remain asymptomatic or are likely to show mild symptoms of the virus but they pose a great threat to the health of the adults, especially elderlies around them because they are basically silent carriers of coronavirus.
“During the lockdown, if a child gets affected, then he may be protected, but his chances of infecting the adults in the house are magnified because everyone is in their homes all the time these days. So, if you have senior citizens or grandparents at home or adults who are suffering from asthma or have had a prolonged illness, it may be prudent to make extra sure that your child does not touch any virus-contaminated surfaces, or mingle with individuals who are symptomatic,” said Shah.
Here are a few steps to follow to ensure the protection of your child from the virus, thereby ensuring that adults in your household stay protected.
With the schools closed, and the entire nation in a lockdown mode, it is natural for kids to feel bored in their confinement, and showing signs of irritation. But, it is important to keep them at home, said Shah.
“They should not be allowed to play with other kids in the neighbourhood or in their housing society. Many have returned from trips in corona affected countries are still in self-quarantine mode. If your child plays with children of such quarantined parents and contract the virus, while they themselves may not be affected at all, or at least not show any severe signs of the infection, they can infect the elderlies in the household, which could very well be fatal,” said Shah.
Limit outdoor access
“The easiest way Covid-19 can spread is through contaminated surfaces. If you have a common terrace in the building, or a parking lot where your child can go and play, or at least run-around, it may be prudent to restrict them from doing so at this point,” said Shah.
“While it is tempting to take them out for a walk, after being cooped up in the apartment for the entire day, it is also important to remember that kids tend to touch everything. Chances are, they would touch the railings of the staircases that lead to the terrace or parked cars, none of which are sanitized. It has already been proven that the virus can linger on metal surfaces for days, so don’t take kids out.” she added.
Strict hygiene routines
Kids, especially toddlers, have very poor sense of hygiene, pointed out Shah.
” Kids should be told not to fidget with their hands. Many kids have a habit of nose-picking or putting their fingers in their mouth — these habits should be discouraged. Some kids who have allergies throughout the year, and they often rub their noses and eyes. They have to be repeated but gently told not to do so. They should be taught to use tissues, or napkins which should be carefully discarded by parents afterwards. Washing hands correctly should also be taught.” said the paediatrician.
” They should strictly be told not to touch anything outside the house. It will be good if they were clothes with pockets, and the parents tell them to put their hands in their pockets if they have to step out,” she added.
If they have some other health emergency which cannot be sorted out by medical experts over the phone, and the kids have to step out to visit a nearby medical centre, it is absolutely imperative they use sanitizer on their way home and take a bath immediately after return. The clothes they wore to the clinic should be put away separately for washing. Ideally, parents should try to take their kids to a clinic rather than a big hospital if they absolutely have to take them to a health centre.
Sensitize kids about Covid-19
Since schools are suspended, there are no teachers who would tell the kids about the deadly virus. So, parents should take the initiative to explain to children how coronavirus can impact individuals, and why social-distancing is essential. Pre-teens and toddlers should be sensitized specifically as they may not be as updated as the teens are, about the virus.
If working-from-home is keeping parents busy, then the easiest thing they can do is to show their kids a two-minute-long clip shared by the government of India, where a superhero named Vayu explains to kids what the virus can do to people and how to keep themselves protected.
Parents should not panic
Many parents are now relating every other small and big illness, or symptoms of ill health in their kids to coronavirus.
” A little cough and cold aren’t uncommon for kids to have nowadays. However, with the coronavirus scare, there is a lot of panic among parents. Health workers should, under such circumstances, try to pacify parents, and offer them guidance over the phone so that they can manage the health of their kids better.” said Shah.
“It is important to remember that the virus doesn’t spread. You spread it. So, as long as you don’t do those practices that facilitate the spreading, you and your child should be okay.” she added.
When should a child get tested?
If any or both the parents test positive or are symptomatic, then it is imperative to get the child tested. ” For young kids, it may be hard to convey the symptoms appropriately. For instance, if they have a sore throat, they may not be able to say it, but may tell you that are experiencing difficulty swallowing. For babies, the signs may be a refusal to eat, crying, drooling etcetera. Parents should also watch out for any signs of breathing difficulty, or dry cough, apart from fever. Disproportionate fatigue is also a telling sign of the virus,” said Shah.
“There are also some non-respiratory symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, eye irritation or itching,” she added.
Can Corona Virus affect newborn babies?
There has been only one case of a newborn child in London contracting the virus so far. The baby’s mother too had tested positive of Covid-19 after she was rushed to the hospital with fever-like symptoms few days before the delivery. However, the experts were unable to infer if the child had contracted the virus in the womb of the mother, during birth, or after birth.
In the absence of any concrete evidence, a general rule of thumb that can prove helpful for new mothers would be to leave the hospital as soon as they can after the delivery of the child. The chances of both the mother and the child contracting the virus is far greater at the hospital than at their homes. During the delivery as well, the number of family members visiting the hospital should be limited, and should not comprise of elderlies.