Caring for a Child with COVID-19

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Back in early February of this year, my son came down with an illness. He had some coughing, a high fever, muscle weakness, nausea, and vomiting. To top it off, for weeks after his recovery, he was unable to eat (because nothing “tasted right”) and he kept getting asthma attacks after short bursts of activity in the yard (even though he had not been previously diagnosed with asthma). He also struggled with fatigue. We visited our pediatrician and he suggested that sometimes illnesses linger, and we shouldn’t be too concerned.

Then the novel coronavirus hit the news.

In the intervening months, we’ve all learned more about SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). The more I personally learn about the virus, the more, in retrospect, I suspect my son may have contracted it—the fever, the pulmonary symptoms (cough and out-of-the-blue asthma), the inability to eat because nothing tasted right (could be caused by anosmia), and most importantly, the timing of his illness. But we don’t know for sure the cause of his illness—as you may recall, testing for COVID-19 was not widely available in the U.S. earlier in the year—and most likely never will, as antibody tests haven’t proven reliable and some studies have shown that antibodies in the body wane over time.

What to do if your child becomes sick during the pandemic

If your child becomes sick with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, muscle aches, nausea) contact your pediatrician right away. It is likely your physician will suggest you get your child tested. Whether or not your child’s test result comes back positive, if your pediatrician has a high degree of suspicion that your child has the virus, you will be instructed to isolate your child from close contact with others—including you and other members of your household.

This can be extremely difficult when every parent knows that children need more loving attention when they are ill. Personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves, can be used in the home to prevent the spread of the virus to others. Frequent handwashing and sanitizing of shared surfaces will also become a part of your daily routine.

How do I get my child to wear a mask?

Mask-wearing to prevent the spread of illness through your household is very important. Depending on how old your child is, or if your child has special needs, it may be difficult to get them to wear a mask. Because children are amazingly attuned to caring for others’ well-being, the first thing I would do is to explain to the child that, by wearing a mask, they are protecting the health of those people they care about most in the world.

Also, children are great a copying behaviors. If they see others around them wearing masks to protect each other, they are more likely to don the masks themselves.

However, masks can get pretty darn uncomfortable. Sometimes being able to decorate a mask before wearing it or pretending to be a superhero that wears a mask can help your child cope with the discomfort.

When should I be worried?

Though evidence has suggested that the course of illness when dealing with infection with SARS-CoV-2 may be milder in children than in adults, some children with pre-existing conditions and infants may be at risk for more severe disease.

Call your doctor if your child develops a rash or bloodshot eyes, as this could be a sign they are developing a Kawasaki-like illness that has been known to be associated with COVID-19 called MIS-C (or, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children).

Take your child to the emergency room if they are having difficulty breathing.

An ounce of prevention…

You may be tired of hearing it (or reading it) by now, but it is so much better to avoid contracting COVID-19 for a multitude of reasons. First, it is a very unpleasant illness to have. Second, it can be deadly. Third, not being a link in the chain of transmission helps us get back to our normal lives that much sooner.

We can protect ourselves, our loved ones, and people we’ve never even met by social distancing, wearing a mask when out in public, and frequently washing our hands. That goes for both adults and children.

Janette DeFelice
Dr. Janette DeFelice is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School where she taught clinical and diagnostic skills to beginning medical students, and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Her writing can be seen online at BeTheChangeMom, ChicagoNow, and Medium, and she’s very excited to have published her first novel, Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts. She lives in Chicago’s west suburbs with her school-age twins, her husband, and a family cat named Clara Barton.

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