As per UNICEF, preliminary data that emerged after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus established that children and young people (below 20 years) were less prone to the direct epidemiological effects on their health and survival after contraction of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), responsible for the COVID-19 disease.
This consensus was based primarily on early data collected from countries such as China, United States, Italy, and a few other, high-income European countries where the virus rapidly spread during its first global wave.
However, more recent data collection efforts led by the UNICEF in low income countries that have a much larger younger population as opposed to the largely aging populations of the high income countries points at the fact that “…the risks of COVID-19 disease in children and young people depend largely on where individuals live and how vulnerable they are to disease and ill health.”
This new claim is backed by evidence by a higher proportion of coronavirus positive cases among younger populations (under 20 years of age) in less developed or developing countries. New data shows that the contraction rate among younger populations stands at an average of 7% in most high income countries while it goes up to 23% in some low- or middle-income nations.
Given that over 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population comprises of young people (24 years or younger), it is important to understand the impact that COVID-19 can have on this group.
As per the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) Government of Pakistan, the positivity ratio among children (aged 1 – 10 years) has remained consistent at 3% with no spike recorded during the third wave.
However, the severity of the infection among young children has seen an increase in Pakistan. As reported by Dawn, Dr. Minhajus Siraj, Joint Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) shared, “…during the first wave we did not admit a single person less than 30 years of age. During the second wave, patients older than 12 years were admitted, but now, during the third wave, we are even receiving infants.”
Impact of Coronavirus on Children’s Physical Health
As per Center for Disease Control and Prevention, most children who contract the novel coronavirus experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, severe cases among children are not unheard of and the causes of the Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) associated with severe COVID-19 cases in children is currently under investigation.
Babies under 1-year or children with pre-existing conditions may be at a higher risk of getting severely ill as a result of COVID-19 contraction. Children with asthma or chronic lung disease, diabetes, genetic, neurologic, or metabolic conditions, Sickle Cell Disease, heart disease, a compromised immune system (Immunosuppression), or those who have a combination of medical conditions are at a much higher risk of severe illness. This is, however, not an exhaustive list, and researchers around the world are currently investigating another phenomenon that might make children especially vulnerable to severe COVID-19 symptoms.
COVID-19 Symptoms among Children
Symptoms in children are very similar to those experienced by adults and might resemble symptoms of other common illnesses such as the common cold, flu or strep. Parents and caregivers should especially be alert if their child experiences:
- Nasal congestion or runny nose
- Loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Head, muscle, and/or body aches
- Loss of appetite or poor appetite, specifically in babies (less than 1-year-old)
How to Protect & Care for Children during the Pandemic
Important measures that can protect your child from getting exposed to and potentially contracting the virus include:
- Constant monitoring of children for possible COVID-19 symptoms listed above.
- Social distancing in public spaces and use of mask.
- Limiting all non-essential physical contact with individuals outside the household.
- Teaching children the importance and the correct way to wash their hands at regular intervals throughout the day.
Important Tips for Caregivers Looking-after a COVID-positive Child
In case your child tests positive for the novel coronavirus, the following protocols should be followed for your child’s safety and that of others:
- Keep your child quarantined at home in case of mild symptoms. If possible, limit the child’s access to one room to prevent others in the household from contracting the virus.
- Constantly monitor your child at home for severe symptoms such as shortness of breath, low blood oxygen, and unrelenting high-grade fever.
- Immediately seek medical help and if advised by the doctor hospitalize your child for more specialized care.
- The caregivers must protect themselves from the virus by:
- Wearing a mask at all times when in the presence of the unwell child.
- Washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds throughout the day, especially after coming into contact with the child.
- Monitoring themselves for symptoms such as those mentioned above.