Can Children Become Seriously Ill With COVID-19?

November 05, 2021

Now that the Delta variant – which is more easily transmissible than previous strains of COVID-19 – is widespread, it’s important for families to take steps to protect their children from getting sick. The Delta variant is infecting children more frequently than other strains of COVID-19 did.

“Hospitals around the country have seen greater numbers of children who are affected by COVID-19, now that the Delta variant accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases nationwide,” says pediatric infectious disease specialist, Mariawy Riollano-Cruz, M.D. “Many children who become ill with the Delta variant only experience mild symptoms, but a small number get quite sick and require hospitalization.”

Doctors and researchers are still learning about COVID-19 and the Delta variant, but they know many things so far. Here are answers to questions that you may have about kids and COVID-19:

How Does the Delta Variant Affect Children?

The Delta variant is more than twice as contagious as the original COVID-19 variants among all people, including children; it spreads more quickly between people and causes more people to become sick. 

Some evidence suggests that the Delta variant may cause more serious illness among unvaccinated people than previous strains, but more research is needed. 

Do COVID-19 vaccines protect children against the Delta variant?

Yes. The COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to help prevent serious illness caused by the Delta variant.

Getting children 5 and older vaccinated should lower their risk of serious illness. Parents of younger children who aren’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccines yet should get vaccinated to help protect their children, because vaccination reduces the risk of passing COVID-19 to other people. 

What is MIS-C, and how is it related to COVID-19?

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, is a complication that’s associated with COVID-19. Doctors aren’t sure of its exact cause, but the condition has appeared in certain children who have had COVID-19 or who were exposed to the virus.

MIS-C causes inflammation in different body parts, such as the heart, lungs, brain, digestive system, kidneys, eyes or skin. The child may present with prolonged fevers, generalized pain including the chest and neck, fatigue, headaches, rashes, red eyes, swelling and redness of the tongue, swelling of the extremities, cough, diarrhea, vomiting, confusion and/or trouble breathing. 

In most cases, MIS-C requires hospitalization. Most children improve with treatment, but it may take a while for some to come back to their baseline behavior and level of activity. Many patients had a very mild COVID-19 infection about one month before the MIS-C diagnosis was made. 

How can parents protect their kids from MIS-C?

Experts aren’t sure why some children develop MIS-C and others don’t. To reduce your child’s risk of getting sick, take steps to keep COVID-19 out of your household, so that your children won’t be exposed to the virus. 

How can parents protect their kids from COVID-19?

Here are several ways that you can help protect your children from COVID-19:

  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine, and get your children (age five and up) vaccinated
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a fitted mask when you’re in indoor public spaces, and have your children (age two and up) do the same
  • Stay six feet away from people from other households, and have your children follow suit 
  • Keep your family away from crowds and crowded spaces, especially when spaces are poorly ventilated
  • Choose outdoor activities over indoor activities when socializing
  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and have your children do the same
  • Clean surfaces in your home often to avoid the spread of germs

Next Steps & Resources:

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.

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