COVID and children: truths and myths

by Sahar Chmais

Children and COVID-19 experiences differ slightly from the relationships between adults and COVID-19, but these differences have caused a lot of confusion leading some to believe that there is a bubble around kids that protects them from the disease. Even more, there have been people who believe that children cannot spread the virus to adults.

Dr. Donald Murphey, a pediatric infectious disease M.D. at Dell Children’s Hospital, helps create an understanding on how the virus reacts in children, how they spread it and what parents can do. Murphey’s bedside manner broke through during the video conference call; while he spoke of the dangerous realities of COVID-19, there were some comforting facts about the disease and how it works in children.

In relation to COVID-19, children tend to have milder symptoms than adults often have. Murphey said that kids do not contract this virus as easily as adults, they feel a milder version of it and they are not the main spreader of the virus – but they do spread the disease.

The probable reason is the amount of virus a person ingests through interactions.

“It probably has to do with how much virus we have in our system and how much we are spreading,” Murphey explained. “I think young adults and older adults have more virus when they get sick. When they get sicker, they have more virus and become more contagious. Kids don’t get the infection as often. When they get infected they are not as sick; they probably don’t have as much virus and therefore cannot spread as much.”

That being said, Murphey did not say that kids cannot spread the disease, they just are not the main source. These results also differ depending on the age of the child.

Studies show that children aged 15 and older can spread COVID-19 more easily than younger kids, and some studies suggest children as young as 12 years can also spread the virus, Murphey added.

Schools with younger children and daycares have not been a large culprit in the spread.

“Kids have gotten back to school and we have more information now that we didn’t have before,” Murphey said. “By and large, those kids are doing well and those communities are doing well.”

Another consideration for Murphey is that younger kids need school; he does not think it is a good option for kids to miss a year of school. He said that if parents are able, they should preserve in-person school.

Just because most children, especially those of younger age, have not had a lot of trouble with the virus it does not mean there have not been severe cases.

Dell Children’s Hospital has seen some cases of hospitalized children with severe symptoms, Murphey said. Some children have been placed in Intensive Care Units, but those are the rarer cases. Most of the hospitalizations were teens.

The children who get severely ill from COVID-19 are the ones with underlying medical problems, which can be a variety of health issues.

Babies have also gone into the hospital sick with COVID-19, but by-and-large, they are not really sick, according to Murphey’s experience.

Over the summer, there were kids coming in with milder symptoms, but Murphey believes that the numbers of hospitalized kids will increase during the coming hoidays.

Hospitals are also seeing kids for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C), which can be set off by COVID-19. Symptoms for MIS-C include a fever that will not go away for more than two days, abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting, a rash or change in skin-color and trouble breathing.

“We’re watching for that, we have seen some of that and I think we will continue to see some of that,” Murphey said. “The numbers are not large.”

MIS-C kids are usually normal, healthy kids, Murphey said.

Knowledge on COVID-19 is still being accumulated with research from all around the world, but so far the treatment options are limited.

The most effective treatment, according to Murphey, is steroids. The second most effective is remdesivir. Both of these medications are used on children and adults.

While people do not have access to COVID-19 vaccines, Murphey encourages everyone to get their flu shots, that way people are not dealing with a pandemic and the flu simultaneously.

“Things are going to get worse before they get better,” Murphey said, “and we have the ability to control this or at least respond to it with masks, distancing, avoiding large groups and washing hands. I hope everyone takes that seriously over the next few months until we have vaccines, and hopefully with vaccines we will be in a better place and life can kind of start to get back to normal.”

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