What Is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

At the end of 2019, a new type of coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) began making people sick with flu-like symptoms. The illness is called coronavirus disease-19 — COVID-19, for short. The virus spreads easily and has affected people all over the world.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

COVID-19 can cause a range of symptoms, including:

The virus can be more serious in some people. And some people have no symptoms at all.

Some kids are having symptoms caused by inflammation throughout the body, sometimes several weeks after they were infected with the virus. This is called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Doctors are trying to find out how these symptoms are related to coronavirus infection.

Symptoms seen in kids who have MIS-C have included:

  • fever
  • belly pain
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • a rash
  • neck pain
  • red eyes
  • feeling very tired
  • red, cracked lips
  • swollen hands or feet
  • swollen glands (lymph nodes)

Kids who are very sick with MIS-C may have trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face, confusion, or trouble staying awake.

How Does Coronavirus (COVID-19) Spread?

People can catch coronavirus from others who are infected even if they don't have any symptoms. This happens when an infected person breathes, talks, sneezes, or coughs, sending tiny droplets into the air. These can land in the nose, mouth, or eyes of someone nearby, or be breathed in. Some of the tiniest droplets, called aerosols, can linger in the air for minutes to hours and travel on air currents. But it seems that the risk of spread is highest when people are less than 6 feet apart.

People also might get infected if they touch an infected droplet on a surface and then touch their own nose, mouth, or eyes.

Experts are looking at whether the virus can spread through stool (poop).

Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) Dangerous to Children?

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. Far fewer cases have been reported in children. Usually, the virus seems to cause a milder infection in children than in adults or older people.

But in some cases of the inflammatory syndrome called MIS-C, kids developed more serious symptoms, sometimes several weeks after being infected with the virus. Most kids with MIS-C get better after they get special care in the hospital, sometimes in the ICU (intensive care unit).

Call your doctor if your child has symptoms of COVID-19 or MIS-C, or just isn't feeling well. Tell the doctor if your child has been near someone with COVID-19, or lived in or traveled to an area where lots of people have the coronavirus.

Get care right away if your child:

  • has trouble breathing
  • has severe belly pain
  • has pain or pressure in the chest
  • is confused or not making sense
  • is having trouble staying awake
  • looks bluish in the lips or face

These symptoms can be warning signs of serious illness.

How Is Coronavirus (COVID-19) Treated?

There is no specific medicine for COVID-19. Most people who have it get better at home with plenty of liquids, rest, and comfort. Some people get very ill and need treatment in the hospital.

How Can I Protect Myself From Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

To protect yourself and your family:

  • Adults and kids over 2 years old should wear a mask any time they are out in public and around other people  to help slow the spread of the virus. To learn more about safe mask practices, check the CDC's guide.
  • Avoid large crowds and busy places.
  • Avoid public indoor spaces that do not provide fresh air from outdoors. Restaurants and bars are particularly risky because people must take off their masks to eat and drink. It is safest to eat outdoors if possible, or to get takeout restaurant food to eat at home.
  • Stay at least 6 feet from people you don't live with. COVID-19 can spread before a person has symptoms and even when someone has no symptoms.
  • Wash your hands well and often. Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Teach your kids to do the same.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Use a household cleaner or wipe to clean and disinfect surfaces and things that people touch a lot (like doorknobs, cellphones, and counters).
  • Keep informed about the latest recommendations for COVID-19 testing in case someone in your family gets sick or is exposed to an infected person. Follow recommendations for quarantine and isolation to stop the virus from spreading.
  • Avoid non-essential travel. If you must travel, follow state and local recommendations or requirements for testing and quarantining before and after travel.
  • Make sure your children have all their vaccinations. Protect them against illnesses like measles and the flu. Kids who have another infection may have a harder time getting better if they do get COVID-19.

COVID-19 vaccines are now available for people 16 and older. Everyone should get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. Studies are under way to see if the vaccines are safe and effective in children younger than 16.

Experts around the world are studying and tracking COVID-19 and are learning how to keep it from spreading further.

Where Can I Learn More About Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) websites for up-to-date, reliable information about coronavirus.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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