Since the novel Coronavirus reached pandemic status in mid 2020, billions of dollars have been spent by governments worldwide to understand and prevent its spread. Recently, the new Omicron variant was detected in South Africa and has spread to Canada, Australia, and the United States. Doctors and researchers continue to work around the clock researching and testing new vaccines, new treatments, and new protocols. While data continues to pour in, we now know much more about the virus than we did one year ago, especially when it comes to transmission and prevention.
Here’s what pediatrician Dr. Prachi Singh suggests for protecting your family and others.
How does Covid-19 affect young children?
Covid severity of illness and transmission rates differ between age groups; Covid in a 15-year-old is very different from Covid in a 4-year-old. We know that kids in high school have a much higher propensity to transmit the disease and to get sick. Most younger children have mild or no symptoms. Currently, severe illness among young children is still rare. However, we know that children with underlying conditions have an increased risk of hospitalization and ICU admissions.
What symptoms should you look for?
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and usually begin 2-14 days after exposure. Covid-19 symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
Seek immediate medical attention if someone has:
- A high fever
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Inability to wake or stay awake
- Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds, depending on skin tone
How can you protect your family?
- Get the family vaccinated. Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to get Covid and transmit Covid at a higher rate. Vaccines are safe, effective, and are currently approved for all people ages 5 and up. Additionally, boosters are now available to all adults over 18.
- Get out, but maintain social distance. Outdoor activities have lower risk of transmission. Parks, hikes, and other family friendly outdoor play areas are generally safe for children. Avoid areas with high foot traffic and close contact spaces.
- Wash hands frequently. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. Use clean, running water and soap. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Wear a mask. Across all age groups, wearing a mask significantly reduces risk of transmission of virus. It is optimal to keep your mask on, even when interacting with vaccinated people who are not household members.
- When in doubt, get tested. Rapid antigen tests are available at local drugstores, and free PCR testing sites are available throughout communities. Caregivers, friends, and household or close-contact family members should get tested anytime anyone in your circle experiences symptoms or has been exposed to Covid.
If you or your child develops any symptoms, call your pediatrician, and get your household tested as soon as possible.
What do we know about the Omicron variant?
The Omicron variant case numbers are rapidly rising. First detected in South Africa, this variant is now present in several countries including Hong Kong, Australia, and the US. The scientific community is concerned and watching closely given the number of mutations in this variant. Preliminary reports show that Omicron may have higher infection rates in children, however research continues to evolve and some experts feel that increase in severity could be due to other viral co-infections such as influenza and common cold virus. Early data suggests rapid antigen tests are able to detect the Omicron variant and most experts believe vaccines will still be effective in mitigating severe infections from the Omicron variant.
Dr. Prachi Singh, DO FAAP is a pediatric infectious disease specialist, mother of two young children, and Assistant Professor at the Department of Infectious Diseases, University of California, San Francisco.
The views and opinions presented in this article reflect those of its author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of UCSF, Teaching Strategies, LLC, or their members.