Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's
We are seven months into this pandemic, and most of us have learned far more than we ever wanted to know about COVID-19. Even so, there are still misperceptions about symptoms and transmission – and that confusion is bound to get worse as we enter flu season.
We’ve created this quick reference sheet to answer some basic questions about COVID-19, to share the best ways to keep the virus at bay, and to detail the similarities (and differences) between COVID-19 and the flu.
What is COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that typically cause respiratory illnesses (like the common cold) in humans. They’re not new – they have been causing infections in humans for centuries – but there are certain strains of the virus that have caused serious illness over the years. The newest among these is a strain called SARS CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus2). This virus causes the disease known as COVID-19 – or COronaVIrus Disease 2019.
How does it spread?
Coronavirus is released into the air as droplets or lands on surfaces when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings. These droplets may land in the nose or mouth of a person who’s nearby (within six feet) – or they may breathe air contaminated with the virus and catch the infection. It’s also spread when someone touches a surface contaminated with the virus and then touches their nose or mouth. In addition, there’s a growing concern that it is airborne, meaning the virus can travel in the air and affect people who are more than six feet away from an infected individual.
What are the signs and symptoms of the infection in children?
While not every child who is exposed to the virus develops illness, those who do typically show symptoms approximately 2-14 days following exposure. Common symptoms include fever, sore throat, cough, headache, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.
A small percentage of children and adults also lose their sense of smell, taste or both. Children, particularly those who have underlying medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease and obesity, may develop more serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing or lethargy.
A very rare, but potentially life-threatening, condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) has been identified in some kids. These children may experience symptoms like rash, abdominal pain, cracked lips, red eyes, swollen hands and feet, etc. This condition has been reported in kids between ages 2 and 15 and has been shown to develop within four weeks from the time of exposure to the virus.
How is COVID-19 diagnosed?
Diagnosis involves swabbing the back of the nose (nasopharyngeal swab). Tests that detect the virus in saliva or the nasal secretions from the front of the nose may soon be publicly available. These tests are better tolerated
Antibody tests, which require a blood sample, are not helpful in determining if someone currently has an infection but can tell us if that person had the virus in the past. Usually, this test can be performed about 3-4 weeks after the infection, if needed.
How is COVID-19 treated?
Most kids with COVID-19 have mild symptoms – and sometimes no symptoms at all. For mild infection, parents can treat the symptoms at home with acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen (ibuprofen should not be given to infants under six months of age) to reduce fever and relieve headache, sore throat, body aches, etc. Parents are also advised to encourage rest and keep children well-hydrated.
Hospitalization is required only for a small percentage of children whose symptoms are severe or are consistent with MIS-C.
How do you prevent the infection?
Until a safe and effective vaccine becomes available, prevention through other means remains the most important step that families can take. These include avoiding large groups of people, social distancing, wearing a face mask (for kids 2 and older) when in public and frequent hand washing.
How are flu and COVID-19 similar?
As we all know, flu is very common during winter months. It results in thousands of children being hospitalized each year. It can be fatal for a small number of children – even when they’re otherwise healthy.
Flu and COVID-19 share a number of symptoms – like fever, sore throat, cough and body aches – which can make it difficult to tell one from the other. This may result in a missed or delayed diagnosis for either or both conditions. Early research from winter 2019 showed that some children with COVID-19 also tested positive for other infections including the flu. It is not clear if symptoms are likely to be worse if a child has both COVID-19 and flu at the same time.
Should my child get a flu shot?
Yes! With the confluence of COVID-19 and flu season, it is more important than ever that all children ages six months and older receive the flu vaccine unless their pediatrician determines it is contraindicated.