As 2020 unfolded, the world learned just how quickly the novel coronavirus COVID-19 could spread. The World Health Organization noted that, by September 2020, nearly 30 million people across the globe had contracted the virus, and that was before the resurgence of the virus in mid-fall.
While the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are among the people most vulnerable to COVID-19, children are not immune to the virus or its potentially deadly consequences.
The Mayo Clinic reports that children of all ages can become infected and ill with COVID-19, but most children who are infected typically do not become as sick as adults. Furthermore, some may not show any symptoms.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association says that children younger than age 14 are less likely to become infected with COVID-19. Nick Davies, an epidemiologist and mathematical modeler at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published a study with other researchers in Nature Medicine. Using data from China, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Canada, and South Korea, Davies found the risk of catching COVID-19 for children and teens (under age 20) was half that of people older than 20. Still, contraction rate models and corresponding ages of children vary around the world.
Even though most children with COVID-19 exhibit mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, some can get severely ill, requiring hospitalization and intensive care. Some children have even died after COVID-19 infection. That is why doctors and other health professionals urge parents not to minimize the threat posed by COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health partners continue to look into a rare but serious medical condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which is associated with COVID-19. This condition can cause inflammation in various parts of the body, including the kidneys, heart, eyes, skin, lungs, and gastrointestinal organs. Doctors do not know what causes MIS-C, but many children diagnosed with it also had the virus that causes COVID-19.
MIS-C can be serious, and even deadly. It may leave lasting scars on the lungs, and can lead to more severe illness down the line, says Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Children may not know they have COVID-19 because they are asymptomatic. Even if they do not feel or look sick, they can still transmit the virus to others, including vulnerable people in their families.
Kids are more likely to transmit illnesses, according to health experts. They have a higher tendency to interact with each other and touch different objects and body parts, which only underscores the importance of exercising caution when letting children interact with others outside their households.
The CDC notes that babies under age 1 might be more likely to have severe illness from COVID-19. Children of other ages with underlying medical conditions might also be at increased risk of severe illness. Underlying medical conditions that can put children at greater risk include diabetes, asthma and heart disease since birth. In addition, children who receive immunosuppression therapies may be vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.
Fever and cough are the most common symptoms of COVID-19 in children. Families must remain diligent, learn to recognize symptoms and ensure their children practice social distancing.