COVID-19 is caused by a new strain of a family of viruses known as coronaviruses, which are frequently found in animals and can also circulate in humans.
Three novel coronaviruses have emerged this century, including SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) in 2002, MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus) in 2012, and SARS-COV-2 (which causes COVID-19) in December 2019.
COVID-19 has spread much further around the globe than either of these other viruses and has already caused more deaths than SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV combined.
The evidence emerging from studies in China and elsewhere is starting to give us a better picture about the impact COVID-19 has on children. It is clear from studies published so far that of all age groups, children and teens are at the lowest risk of dying from COVID-19.
Those who are infected are experiencing mostly mild to moderate disease. However, researchers still have much to learn about COVID-19 and children. We are seeing lower numbers of children infected compared to what we'd normally see with other respiratory viruses. We don’t know whether that’s because they’re not being infected, whether they’re so mildly affected that you can’t tell they have the virus, or whether it’s because they’re not being tested as they don’t meet the testing criteria. Once blood tests are available that can document evidence of a previous infection we will be able to determine more.
SARS-COV-2 is mostly spread by droplets. This means that when a person coughs or sneezes, the virus can contaminate the hands of the person who coughed or sneezed (if they didn't use a tissue or their elbow) AND any nearby surfaces, as well as the surfaces that the sick person then touches after they sneezed/coughed and before they wash their hands.
SARS-COV-2 can survive for up to 72 hours on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel. So the trolley at the supermarket, the handrail on the stairs, the door handle you open and even your phone or laptop can be contaminated by the coronavirus when someone coughs or sneezes. You can't see the virus and the hard surface won't look any different, so you just don't know that it is there. This is why you need to keep washing your hands and avoid touching your face to protect yourself from infection with coronavirus.
Researchers are unsure whether children are transmitters of the virus. Even though early studies are showing infected children have milder symptoms of the virus, they may still play a role in COVID-19 transmission. It is just as important for kids to wash their hands, catch their coughs and social distance to prevent getting the infection.
Infected children often have a cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, diarrhoea and a headache. Doctors in China reported less than half of the children with infection had a fever and many had no symptoms. Most infected infants, children and adolescents with COVID-19 in China had mild infections and recovered within one to two weeks.
While we don’t have definitive data on COVID-19 and underlying medical conditions in children yet, we do know that any child with a disease or condition that makes them immunocompromised, including asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cancer, and other autoimmune conditions, may be at risk of developing more serious symptoms and complications from respiratory disease.
A commentary in the journal Pediatrics noted that for infections with previous coronaviruses, being younger, having underlying lung conditions, and being immunocompromised are all linked with more severe diseae in children. Our hospitals are well prepared to provide care for these kids if they do need it.
Pregnant women are always considered a vulnerable or at-risk group for infections. However, so far pregnant women do not seem to develop more severe symptoms of COVID-19 than the general population. In most cases, it is expected pregnant women will only experience mild or moderate symptoms. Unless there are significant life-threatening symptoms as a result of COVID-19, there is no current evidence that induced labour or a caesarean section is necessary.
Information so far is limited by the newness of the virus, but there is no current evidence suggesting the virus can pass to your developing baby while pregnant, or that the virus will cause abnormalities in your baby. Scientists are working to learn more as quickly as possible.
There is no current evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through breast milk. If you wish to breastfeed your baby, it is safe for you to do so. However, if you are diagnosed with COVID-19, please consult your Doctor about breastfeeding.
We encourage pregnant women to visit the following websites for further information: