Children get sick less often than adults due to Covid-19, but children are at risk. This is the key insight from a paper in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA), a peer-reviewed medical journal, as the year draws to an end. The paper summarizes the current understanding of how children are affected by Covid-19.
So far those under the age of 18 represent about 8.5% of reported cases, with relatively few deaths compared to other age groups, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The disease in children is usually mild.
While risk of death in children is far lower than in adults, the article sums up that some children have died.
Children can get Covid-19 from their close contacts such as friends, teachers and from sports activities. Their risk of getting sick enough to be hospitalized increases with age, although new-borns and young infants are also at increased risk. The paper has been co-written by Lindsay Thompson and Sonja Rasmussen of University of Florida College of Medicine.
“As the paper shows, children seem to experience Covid-19 disease less often and less severely compared to adults, yet children can still get very sick,” said Thompson. “While emerging research may offer much needed vaccines and therapies, we can’t let go of the most important public health safety measures.”
Children with special health needs at higher risk
Those children with underlying conditions like obesity, asthma and heart disease or those already immunocompromised are at a higher risk.
Rarely, children infected with Covid-19 have also gone on to develop a condition called the multisystem inflammatory syndrome about two to four weeks after infection. This appears to be the body’s strong response to being infected with the virus. Some of these infected children have had no symptom of Covid-19 at all. These cases require hospitalization and may need complex supportive therapies. In some instances, deaths have been reported.
There is still much to be understood about the role of children in virus transmission. Early data also suggests that the infection rates among teenagers may be higher than in younger children.
What can parents do?
While scientists are still studying the longer-term effects of keeping schools open on community transmission, parents can try to avoid getting infected themselves, to minimize risk of transmission to children.
Researchers recommend practicing the 3 W’s: Watch your distance, wear a cloth mask and wash your hands. They have also recommended avoiding the 3 C’s: Closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places and close-contact settings.
We do know that mask wearing alone reduces new Covid-19 cases by 45%. We also know that while women are complying with public health measures of Covid-19, the rates are lower among the men.
“While it may be easy to become complaisant, it is ever important to remain firm with children for theirs and their family’s safety,” said Thompson. The paper also recommends flu shots for those older than six months, and Covid-19 vaccinations for all after consulting with the family physician, when it is available.