Coronavirus and Kids: Symptoms and Who’s at Risk

May 10, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Bruce N Terrin, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.

Lisa Meli, M.D. contributes to topics such as Pediatrics.

By: Kelly Shepsko

As the coronavirus continues to affect our communities, we’ve learned that children are not immune to the virus. According to data provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 2, 2020, nearly 2% of all cases in the U.S. are in those under age 18. Fortunately, we have learned that most pediatric cases are mild and don’t require hospitalization.

Symptoms to look for in children

According to the CDC, the symptoms most experienced by coronavirus-positive children are fever and cough. Shortness of breath was also cited as a symptom, affecting nearly 10% of pediatric patients.

Less commonly reported symptoms that have manifested in children include body aches, sore throat, headache and diarrhea.

“In addition to those symptoms we’re hearing about more frequently, such as fever and cough, we’re also seeing that loss of taste and smell presents in children, too,” says Lisa Meli, M.D., pediatrician at Hackensack Meridian Medical Group.

Since most pediatric cases are mild, they can typically be managed at home after consultation with a pediatrician. However, there have been cases in children requiring hospitalization to manage symptoms, particularly in those of adolescent age, those under one year of age or those who have underlying conditions.

“While the majority of pediatric cases are mild, a trend we have been seeing is that adolescents seem to have a higher risk of experiencing more severe COVID-19 symptoms than younger children over the age of one,” adds Dr. Meli. “It’s especially important for parents of adolescents with underlying or chronic conditions to take precautions to protect their child.”

How does Coronavirus affect children with underlying or chronic conditions?

In a recent study of positive pediatric cases, one in 5 children were found to have at least one underlying condition, thus demonstrating their vulnerability.

With a compromised immune system, a child can quickly experience more severe symptoms, such as pneumonia, because they do not have the immunity defenses to ward off the virus on their own.

This includes children with:

  • Autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
  • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Serious heart conditions

In addition to those conditions, there is another risk factor for potential serious complications caused by COVID-19 that we may be hearing about more: obesity.

“The pediatric medical community has been observing a possible link between obesity and more severe coronavirus disease in both children and adults,” says Dr. Meli. “Parents or caregivers with children who may be considered overweight for their age or have been diagnosed with a chronic condition should speak with their pediatrician about concerns pertaining to coronavirus and follow proper prevention measures, including handwashing and frequent cleaning/disinfecting practices in the household.”

What if I think my child is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms?

Call your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child exhibiting any of the following symptoms that could be associated with COVID-19:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea

Bring your child to the emergency department if your child experiences the following severe symptoms*:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

Resources and Next Steps

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.