The health effects of the Covid-19 outbreak on children are usually milder but many unknowns remain.
As the number of Covid-19 cases is increasing worldwide, parents seeking to protect their children from the disease can take hope in one thing: in infants, the disease has usually been milder.
There are still unknowns about coronavirus though, and ongoing work is underway. Now, here’s what we learn.
Can children catch coronavirus?
Hey. They can become infected with coronavirus, and they tend to be able to transmit it, even though they have no symptoms. That is why it is important to practice social distancing and hand-washing for children, even if they do not appear ill.
How does coronavirus Affect Kids?
It is commonly thought to cause milder symptoms in infants, but as the epidemic progresses, the different impacts per age are becoming clearer.
Most of what we know today is focused on reports coming from China, where the epidemic started. There was 2.4 percent of all cases found in children under the age of 19. In this group of children, an even smaller number had severe symptoms, 2.5%, or what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “a very small proportion.” But more research is underway and a clearer picture still emerges.
Why does coronavirus affect children differently?
This is as yet unclear. Dr. Jay C Butler, Deputy Director of Infectious Disease at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “The trend is very significant,” in a live show broadcast by the American Medical Association Journal, but that the mechanisms are “still unknown.”
The most vulnerable to coronavirus remains people aged 60 and older or with chronic health conditions. According to the WHO, that includes people with conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic respiratory conditions.
My child suffers from a health disorder. Will I need to worry?
Respiratory disorders like asthma frequently lead to more serious cases of respiratory illnesses like influenza. But the coronavirus is new, and whether it will affect children with asthma more seriously remains uncertain.
Likewise, there is no evidence yet as to whether coronavirus will impact children with diabetes more adversely, which is an adult risk factor. That said, Johns Hopkins University experts warn parents that they should be careful.
Should I keep my kids home from school?
In several countries, the decision was taken from the hands of parents, with school and educational institutions being closed by governments and local authorities to try to avoid the spread of the virus.
If your children are at home, they will still need daily exercise – so when they are outside, they will need to practice social distancing.
What did scientists know about the impacts of coronavirus on children so far?
Originally it was just the elderly. The myth about coronavirus, fanned by the news of any reported sad death, was that the virus was mainly a problem for those over 70, or people with severe underlying conditions of health. These were the classes that were initially encouraged to separate themselves socially. But we are beginning to see that coronavirus can cause serious illness to some younger people. Crucially, while most younger people and children would experience symptoms slightly worse than flu, they may be invisible virus carriers – and play a key role in transmitting it.
The UK was late in closing schools relative to other European nations-waiting until 104 deaths due to coronavirus had already occurred to take action. Chinese researchers found that children were rarely infected with novel coronavirus, and therefore probably had little role in the disease spread.
Yet most of China’s diagnostic efforts were heavily skewed towards hospital admissions, especially in the early phases of the outbreak. Adult patients were involved in most hospitalized cases. Does this mean that children and adolescents were not infected or that they were suffering from milder symptoms that were not detected?
As several of my colleagues, I could see no logical explanation of why kids weren’t infected: this was a virus transmitted via the respiratory path, not by an adult-only channel. When large numbers of children were infected and developed only mild cold-like symptoms, then there was considerable potential for transmitting the virus.
Some of the key distinctions between the novel coronavirus and Sars and Mers is that people with Covid-19 can only have moderate symptoms – making diagnosis more difficult. Many people diagnosed with Sars quickly developed pneumonia. It is a fairly easy process to recognize and isolate people with serious symptoms, making it comparatively easy to monitor infection by case detection and contact tracing.
The new coronavirus is something else. Symptoms can go undetected or be easily mistaken with the common cold or mild flu in more than 85 percent of reported cases. The greatest advantage – the thing that has helped it to spread so quickly, according to one report – is its ability to cause mild illness in the majority of people it infects. When you can’t say clearly whether anyone has a cold or coronavirus, it’s far more difficult to distinguish cases and prevent infections.
Far from being uninfected by this virus, children may actually be its invisible carriers, essential links in transmission chains throughout the community. Yet one significant piece of the jigsaw is still missing. Although many of us believe children play a key role in this outbreak, there is still a shortage of hard evidence to support that claim.
Chinese researchers have analyzed infection outcomes in more than 2,000 confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases of childhood in possibly the largest study of its kind. Only over half of the kids have mild symptoms including colds or no symptoms at all.
Severe and essential diseases, where body oxygen levels are small and various organs are under pressure, were found in around 5 percent of the children surveyed, with the youngest (under one year old) at greatest risk. This research also poses major gaps. Importantly, most of these cases were suspected of Covid-19, rather than confirmed. Yet at least this research does reaffirm that most infections are mild in babies.
Judging from past pandemics, school closures can be an effective way to mitigate a virus ‘ spread – particularly when they are part of a larger system of social distancing steps. Kids congregate en masse every school day, sometimes in close proximity, and then head home, bringing with them every new infection they have picked up. Reducing the process intuitively would help slow down the virus.
The UK Government may have underestimated the impact of coronavirus by believing the young and healthy were not at risk. Indeed, records of hospital admissions indicate that this is a virus that can cause serious illness even among younger people. A US analysis reveals that 38 percent of 508 patients hospitalized with coronavirus were between 20 and 54 years of age (less than 1 percent of total admissions were children under 19). Among those 508 patients, 121 were admitted to intensive care; almost half of these patients were under 65.
Why are some people at greater risk from coronavirus?
Persons with diabetes or heart disease are considered to be more at risk from coronavirus, which is beginning to spread rapidly in the UK and globally. This is a problem for the 7.4 million Britons who have some type of heart or circulatory disorder, which includes 4.8 million people with diabetes.
The risk factor is the lungs, as it is that organ that is likely to be affected by a coronavirus in all types of patients. Poor overall health means they are at greater risk of Covid-19 causing significant medical damage than people of good health.
Jon Cohen, emeritus professor of infectious diseases at the medical school of Brighton and Sussex, said: “Coronavirus triggers lung infection-a pneumonia. When the lungs get an infection-some kind of pneumonia, not just coronavirus-the airspaces fill up with the inflammation-caused fluid. Therefore the body needs to work harder to get oxygen into the blood.
Heart and lungs
“The heart and the lungs work as a closely integrated ‘team’, so when there is pneumonia the heart has to work harder, and so obviously if there is pre-existing heart disease that puts extra strain on the heart.” Early reports from the outbreak that began in China suggested 40 percent of people who were ill enough to be treated in hospital because of coronavirus had either cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease – affecting the flow of blood in their brain – such as a stroke.
“That statistic doesn’t mean people with heart disease are more likely to contract the coronavirus,” said Orly Vardeny, an associate professor of medicine at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and the University of Minnesota. “It just means that those folks are more likely to have complications once they do get it.” People who have fatty buildups or plaques in their arteries could be at risk of having a heart attack because viral illnesses similar to Covid-19 can destabilize these plaques, which can then block an artery leading to the heart, according to Vardeny.
Diabetics are at risk from Covid-19 for similar reasons, for either type 1 or type 2.
“Patients with diabetes also have a heart but also kidney issues, and likewise any additional pressure on the body from the infection may cause secondary problems in those organs. We also know that the immune systems of diabetics are not quite as strong at battling infections as those of non-diabetics, “Cohen added.
“Coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms and complications in diabetes sufferers. If you have diabetes and you have symptoms such as cough, high temperature, and breathlessness, you need to closely check your blood sugar and call NHS 111, “said Dan Howarth, Diabetes UK’s head of care.
The risk to patients in both groups depends on the health of each person, such as how long they have had their disease, how much they suffer complications and any other problems they may have, such as a breathing problem.
Yet case-fatality levels – the percentage of individuals who suffer from a disease – indicate that the over-65s are five times more likely to die than those in the lowest risk categories. And, generally speaking, older people are the most likely to have these underlying health conditions.
Like with other issues in this pandemic, it’s an oversimplification to believe that coronavirus affects only older people. Younger people and children are less likely to die from coronavirus, but their mild symptoms can cause them to become infectious virus carriers – so they are more difficult to detect.