Protecting Babies and Toddlers from Coronavirus (COVID-19)

protecting babies toddlers kids from coronavirus covid-19

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is taking the world by storm, quickly spreading across continents and ending up right in our own neighborhoods. And if it hasn't shown up near you yet, according to the CDC it's only a matter of time before it does.

While everyone is panicking and stock-piling respirators, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper, keep in mind that there are many more practical steps you can take to reduce your own risk, and your children's risk, of contracting coronavirus in the first place.

Looking for ways to structure your kids' days? Check out our COVID-19 kids schedule that you can modify and print for free!

Can Kids Get Coronavirus COVID-19?

The short answer is Yes!

Anybody exposed to the virus will contract the illness. The question is how they will experience the illness in terms of severity and duration of symptoms.

Unlike what we see in the elderly, the coronavirus COVID-19 actually has relatively mild symptoms in children, especially those under the age of 10.

As of Tuesday, March 18, a new study out of China demonstrates that a small portion of children, especially babies and preschoolers, are at risk for serious complications of COVID-19. In that study, 125 children became seriously or critically ill from COVID-19, and 60% of those were age 5 or under.

To our knowledge, no child under the age of 10 has died of the virus, even in China. Interestingly, there's no reason to believe that they are not contracting it at a similar rate to adults (in fact, they're basically walking petri dishes, so they probably are spreading it like wildfire!).

There are a few theories as to why children might not be as susceptible to the virus.

  • First, some believe that children's lungs are much less inflamed than adults' lungs, and the virus thrives in an inflamed lung.
  • Second, some believe that kids are much more likely to have been exposed to different variations of the coronavirus, which helps them build antibodies that they can use to fight COVID-19.

Neither of these theories has been tested in the lab or clinic, but they are the most popular possibilities as of now.

How the Coronavirus Spreads to Kids

Like any other cold or flu virus, the coronavirus COVID-19 is spread by contact with bodily fluids. When someone talks, sneezes, coughs, or otherwise spreads droplets into the air, there is a risk that those particles contain the virus and will cause infection.

According to the CDC, the primary risk of contracting COVID-19 is through person-to-person contact. For example, if a droplet is inhaled, or ends up in your nose, mouth, or eyes. This appears to be the primary method for the virus spreading. This is why they say keep interactions to a minimum - it's OK to decline a hand-shake, or to request sitting farther away while in a meeting. A recent study demonstrated that COVID-19 can remain airborne in droplets for up to 3 hours.

However, the virus can also spread when the droplets land on an infected surface. If you touch that surface and then touch your mouth, eyes, nose, or other mucous membranes, there is a risk of contracting the infection. The CDC says that indirect method of transmission is probably relatively rare.

Keep in mind that but recent research shows that COVID-19 can survive for many hours on various surfaces (4 hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 2-3 days on plastic or stainless steel). If you're in doubt, disinfect the surface.

Fortunately, in children and adolescents the rate of reported coronavirus COVID-19 infection is extremely low, as is the rate of fatality. As of this writing, according to the WHO and China CCDC, no child under the age of 10 has died from coronavirus COVID-19, or complications resulting from the virus.

Of course, as the virus progresses and possibly mutates, this could change. Also, it is very possible that children with compromised immune systems, including premature infants and children with asthma, will experience COVID-19 very differently from others.

Steps to Prevent Infection in Kids.

Here are some basic guidelines to enforce with your children. Do what is comfortable for you, and if you're ever unsure, ask your pediatrician. Also realize that while kids might be relatively immune to the extreme effects of coronavirus COVID-19 that you see in adults, they can still spread it very quickly, including to you (and grandparents).

Tips for Newborns and Infants

  • Wash your hands! If you've been outside the home or with others, avoid touching your baby without first washing your hands. Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Avoid letting others interact with your baby. You'd be surprised how much saliva comes out of someone's mouth when they're oogling a baby! Politely decline. Try to keep people at least 6 feet away, a social distancing strategy recommended by the CDC.
  • Avoid letting others hold or care for your baby. If you're unsure, ask them to first wash their hands (or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and even put on a respirator.
  • Disinfect and then clean/rinse toys and other objects before handing them to your baby, or introducing them into your baby's play area. Consider purchasing some Lysol or Clorox disinfectant wipes; if they're hard to find, consider bleach-based disinfectant wipes, which tend to be very effective.
  • Consider using a baby carrier with a weather cover. If you're venturing out with your baby, consider carrying him or her in one of our best baby carriers. Note that many baby carriers have fabric weather covers that provide some protection against airborne droplets.
  • Consider a plastic cover for your car seat or stroller. When venturing out of the house into dense public areas, such as the grocery store, museums, public transportation, or city streets, consider using a plastic weather cover specifically designed for your car seat or stroller. While these are not necessarily designed to protect against tiny saliva droplets (they all have some mesh or holes for air-flow), they are definitely better than nothing. Note that you should NEVER put anything not designed for this purpose on or around your baby, especially plastic.
  • Check with your daycare or nanny. Your daycare or other child care personnel should be well aware of how to reduce the risk of coronavirus, but be sure to check with them regarding precautions they are taking, and whether they might need help finding supplies.

plastic weather shield car seats strollers protect kids from coronavirus covid-19

Tips for Toddlers

  • Wash your hands! We can't stress this enough! The first line of defense against coronavirus COVID-19 is simply washing your hands. Especially if you've been outside the home. Remember you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer in a pinch.
  • Use clean wipes or cloths when wiping their hands or face. Try not to reuse the bathroom or kitchen towels for cleaning up faces and hands, as they can spread germs. Grab some sensitive baby wipes, they'll get the job done without any harsh chemicals, and are perfect for one-time use.
  • Reduce interactions with kids who might be sick. This is obvious, but you'd be surprised! If local kids recently traveled out of the country or to certain areas of the US (such as Seattle), consider opting out of those playdates or birthday parties. 
  • Watch what they put in their mouths. Toddlers are great at grabbing random objects, both at home and when outside of the house, and shoving them in their mouths. Keep a close eye on your toddler to make sure they aren't licking the railings, mouthing other kids' toys, or otherwise increasing their risk of exposure. Keep in mind that the WHO says that the coronavirus can live on surfaces for a few hours up to a few days.
  • Disinfect and then clean/rinse toys and other objects before handing them to your toddler, or introducing them into your toddler's play area. Consider purchasing some Lysol or Clorox disinfectant wipes; if they're hard to find due to shortages, consider bleach-based disinfectant wipes. After using harsh disinfectant wipes, be sure to wash the items with soapy water and then rinse.
  • Consider a stroller and car seat cover. When venturing out of the house into dense public areas, such as the grocery store or city streets, consider using a plastic weather cover for your car seat or stroller. While these are not designed to protect against tiny saliva droplets (they need to have some mesh or holes for air-flow), they are definitely better than complete exposure.
  • Check with your daycare or nanny. Your daycare or other child care personnel should be well aware of how to reduce the risk of coronavirus, but be sure to check with them regarding precautions they are taking, and whether they might need help finding supplies.

What is Coronavirus COVID-19?

Coronaviruses have been around for several decades, and the odds are that you have been exposed to one of them during your lifetime. According to the CDC, there are seven different types of coronavirus, four of which are very common and tend to produce cold-like symptoms.

But there are also three novel coronaviruses that have appeared over the past several years: one is called MERS-CoV ("MERS"), one called SARS-CoV ("SARS"), and the newest one is called SARS-CoV-2 ("COVID-19" or "Coronavirus" in the media).

The newest novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is what is spreading across the globe and causing so much panic right now. It's called novel because it wasn't previously discovered until the outbreak in China.

How Common is Coronavirus COVID-19?

Updated March 14: At the time of this writing, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the new COVID-19 has infected just over 130,000 people worldwide, and over 120 countries have reported incidents of COVID-19. There are nearly 5,000 deaths reported.

In the United States, the CDC reports over 1600 confirmed cases (and 41 confirmed deaths). This is spread across the country, with 46 U.S. states and Washington DC now reporting cases of COVID-19 to the CDC. Some states have reported as few as 1 to 5 cases, such as Montana, whereas other states like Washington and New York have reported over 200 cases each.

As the virus spreads, these numbers are changing on a daily basis. See the CDC website for an updated map of U.S. cases. Note that these numbers only include cases reported to the CDC, which means that the actual number of cases is likely much higher than these estimates. This might be especially true for children who can carry and spread the disease without showing any serious symptoms.

Have Children Died of COVID-19?

At the time of this writing, according to the WHO and China CCDC, no children between 0-9 years old have died from infection with the Coronavirus COVID-19, or from complications resulting from the infection.

However, a few children and adolescents between the ages of 10-19 have died, as have some young adults.

The primary risk category for fatality resulting from infection with coronavirus COVID-19, however, is adults 50 years and older, especially adults over 70 and 80 years of age. Risk of death from coronavirus COVID-19 is especially high for patients with comorbid illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, or hypertension. According to the WHO, this may or may not be due to the virus taking advantage of inflamed lungs.

Overall, the risk posed by coronavirus COVID-19 to children under the age of 19 is extremely low. Of course, that could change as the virus spreads and/or mutates, and immune-compromised children will face higher risk of complications. If you suspect you or a loved one might have contracted coronavirus COVID-19, seek immediate medical attention.

Can you Spread Coronavirus by Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is one of the most important things you can do for your child, especially given the transfer of antibodies from mother to child, but there are definitely risks associated with breastfeeding if you think you might have coronavirus.

According to guidance issued by the CDC, there are a few points to consider. In previous studies asking whether a coronavirus passes through breastmilk, such as with SARS-CoV, there was no evidence for that specific coronavirus passing to the baby. A new study published in the Lancet demonstrated that nine infected new mothers showed no sign of the COVID-19 virus in their breastmilk, amniotic fluid, or cord blood following birth of a baby. Furthermore, throat swabs of their newborn baby also tested negative for COVID-19. 

However, given the limited research with this novel coronavirus COVID-19, so the CDC has not issued any formal guidance about breastfeeding with COVID-19 coronavirus.

Can Pregnant Moms Pass Coronavirus to their Fetus?

A new study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics (Neonatology) demonstrated no evidence that the virus or its symptoms are passed from an infected pregnant woman to her fetus or delivered baby. In the study, four babies were born to pregnant women infected with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China. After delivery, the newborn babies all tested negative for COVID-19, and did not display any symptoms of the virus.

Another study published in the Lancet demonstrated no evidence for COVID-19 in throat swabs of nine babies born to infected mothers. Here is another recent paper with similar findings.

Of course, these are very small and new studies, and every case is potentially unique. If you are pregnant and suspect you have been exposed to the virus, please call your doctor immediately. Guidelines for pregnant women who might have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) can be found here.

 

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