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COVID-19: What Families Need to Know

2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

​COVID-19, discovered in December 2019, quickly became a global pandemic. Doctors and researchers continue to learn more about it every day. Safe and effective vaccines are now available, offering hope for an end to the pandemic. Until everyone is vaccinated, however, the virus continues to spread.

Here's what we know now and how you can protect your family and others.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, range from mild to severe and generally begin 2-14 days after being exposed to the virus. Someone with these symptoms may have COVID-19:

  • fever and chills

  • a cough

  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • muscle or body aches

  • headache

  • fatigue

  • new loss of taste or smell

  • sore throat

  • congestion or runny nose

  • nausea or vomiting

  • diarrhea

Which children are most at risk?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, children do not seem to be at higher risk for getting COVID-19. However, some may be more likely to become severely ill if infected with the virus, including those with chronic medical conditions such as:

    • Obesity

    • Conditions that weaken the immune system

    • Sickle cell disease

    • Heart disease or congenital heart conditions

    • Lung disease (including asthma)

    • Diabetes

    • Neurodevelopmental disorders such as cerebray palsy

    • Chronic kidney disease

    • Complex medical conditions, including some that require breathing or feeding tubes, or home ventilators.

If your child has been exposed to COVID-19, or you are concerned about your child's symptoms, call your pediatrician right away.

Does COVID-19 affect children the same way as adults?

Many children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. But while most children with COVID-19 infections have recovered, some have become severely ill and hospitalized, and some have died. In addition, like adults, some children and teens who get COVID-19 have developed post-COVID conditions such as long-haul COVID.

How to protect your family

  • Get COVID-19 vaccines for all family members who are eligible. COVID vaccines are now authorized for adults and children age 5 and up. Vaccines for children under 5 years old may be authorized next. Clinical trials continue for vaccines that could be given to children as young as six months old.

  • ​​Get a COVID-19 booster shot ​for everyone ages 18 years and older using any of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S. People who received Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can get a booster at least 6 months after completing your primary COVID-19 vaccination series. People who received Johnson & Johnson's Janssen vaccine should get a booster at least 2 months after your shot.​

  • Avoid crowds, poorly ventilated spaces, and keep a safe physical distance from people outside your household.

  • Anyone over age two who is not fully vaccinated should wear a well-fitting face mask in indoor public places. Where COVID cases are substantial or high, everyone should wear face mask indoors in public whether or not they've been vaccinated. Universal mask wearing is also recommended in schools by all students, teachers, staff,and visitors at this time.

  • Follow local and state guidance on travel restrictions.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that is 60% or higher alcohol-based.

  • Teach kids to cough and sneeze into a tissue (make sure to throw it away after each use!) or into their arm or elbow, not their hands. Avoid touching your face; teach your children to do the same.

  • Clean and disinfect your home as usual using regular household cleaning sprays or wipes. Wash stuffed animals or other plush toys, following manufacturer's instructions in the warmest water possible and dry them completely.

Are there medicines to treat COVID-19 in children?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given emergency use authorization for monoclonal antibody therapy to treat mild to moderate COVID symptoms in some adults and adolescents. Monoclonal antibodies, given through an IV, may help block the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering cells and make it easier for the body to destroy.

To be considered for monoclonal antibody therapy, adolescents must be age 12 or older and weigh at least 88 pounds; have had symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection and a positive COVID test for less than 10 days; and be at high risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, but not yet hospitalized.

Some adolescents at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 may be eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment after being exposed to the virus. If your child is high risk and is exposed to COVID, call your pediatrician to discuss if it's an option.

Home remedies you may hear about on social media, such as the lice and animal de-worming product ivermectin, are NOT proven effective against COVID-19. Worse, they can be toxic if used not as directed.

How to care for someone in your family with COVID-19

People who are mildly ill with COVID-19 are usually able to isolate at home during their illness. However, it may be recommended to take these additional steps:

  • Separate family members with COVID-19 from others as much as possible. The person with the virus should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Ideally, they should use a separate bathroom, if available. Limit visitors in the house.

  • Avoid contact with pets. This includes petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food.

  • Call ahead before visiting the doctor. This will help them take extra steps to keep other people from getting infected or exposed.

  • Avoid sharing personal household items. Don't share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in the home. After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water.

  • Extra cleaning for all "high-touch" surfaces. These include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables. Also, clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them. Use a household cleaning spray or wipes and follow the instructions on the label.

  • Monitor symptoms. Call your doctor or health department right away if the illness gets worse.

Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) agrees with the World Health Organization about the use of ibuprofen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, there is not enough evidence to recommend you avoid using ibuprofen, unless you have an underlying medical condition that makes ibuprofen less safe. Using acetaminophen is a reasonable and safe option. In children, the goal should be to improve their overall comfort, monitor their activity, look for signs of serious illness, and make sure they drink enough liquids.

Talk with your child's pediatrician about the correct dose before using any medication. Use a medication syringe or dropper to measure the correct amount because they are more reliable than a measuring spoon.

Talking to children about COVID-19

News coverage about COVID-19 can be frightening to kids. Parents and others who work closely with children can filter information and talk about it in a way that their child can understand. These tips can help:

  • Simple reassurance. Remind children that researchers and doctors are learning as much as they can about the virus and are taking steps to keep everyone safe.

  • Give them control. It's also a great time to remind your children of what they can do to help—washing their hands often, coughing into a tissue or their sleeves, and getting enough sleep.

  • Watch for signs of anxiety. Children may not have the words to express their worry, but you may see signs of it. They may get cranky, be more clingy, have trouble sleeping, or seem distracted. Keep the reassurance going and try to stick to your normal routines.

  • Monitor their media. Keep young children away from frightening images they may see on TV, social media and other sources. For older children, talk together about what they are hearing on the news and correct any misinformation or rumors you may hear.

  • Be a good role model. COVID-19 doesn't discriminate and neither should we. While COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China, it doesn't mean that having Asian ancestry—or any other ancestry—makes someone more susceptible to the virus or more contagious. Stigma and discrimination hurt everyone by creating fear or anger towards others. When you show empathy and support to those who are ill, your children will too.

More information

Last Updated
American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2021)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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