COVID-19 and kids: The latest on what parents need to know

Louisville pediatric infectious disease expert answers some of the most common questions

Kentucky is starting to see some cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in kids. While the virus appears to be — for the most part — less severe for children, many parents are showing concern.

Kristina Bryant, M.D., pediatric infectious disease specialist with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, answers some of the most pressing questions about the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread in your home.

How is COVID-19 appearing in kids?

Dr. Bryant: SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, causes symptoms in children that look a lot like more common viruses like flu or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). It can cause a runny nose or a cough. It can cause fever; it even can cause some vomiting and diarrhea. So — all of the symptoms that parents are used to seeing in their children during winter cold and flu season.

To some extent, the advice for this virus is the advice that we give every cold and flu season. Encourage your child to take fluids. Watch how many wet diapers they’re having. You don’t need to go to the doctor if your child has a mild runny nose or a cough; your doctor’s probably given you instructions about what to do for fever. As with many other viral illnesses, there’s no treatment for COVID-19. It needs to run its course. And that means making your child comfortable and encouraging fluids, and trying to prevent infection to other people in the household.

Should parents be worried?

Dr. Bryant: We are still learning about this virus, but infections seem to be less frequent in children than adults, and overall less serious. Some children who get it have no symptoms at all. Most children have mild symptoms. We don’t quite understand all of the reasons around that. But if we look at other, not-very-common coronaviruses — the original SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) — children were not affected as much as adults with those viruses as well. So not as many children, from what we can tell from the numbers so far, and most children are not getting very sick.

How do we prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside our homes?

Dr. Bryant: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has given parents really good instructions about how to prevent the spread of infection in the home when one person is sick or more than one person is sick. That involves really good hand-washing, trying to separate people in the home from people who are well, and not sharing personal items that maybe you’re used to sharing within a family. A person who is sick with COVID-19 should not play with family pets.

Young kids crawl on the floor and put everything in their mouths. How do you practically make that work in your home?

Dr. Bryant: I will say I’m not as worried about the floor. We know kids crawl on the floor. But kids, when they have a viral infection, they can have virus in their snot, in their spit, and in their poop. And so the way viruses are spread really is by coming into contact with those sorts of body fluids. It’s really about proper hand-washing and cleaning. Let’s say you sneeze, and some of that sneeze lands on a table. Your child might come by that table and then touch their hands to their mouth without cleaning. That’s how viruses are spread in general. That seems to be how this virus is spread. And so really good hand-washing after dealing with used tissues, cleaning surfaces, not sharing personal items like towels: Those are the practical things that parents can do.

Maybe you’re used to people sharing food at dinner and taking bites off somebody else’s plate. Now’s not the time to be doing that.

Is social distancing really important?

Dr. Bryant: Schools and many things in this city are closed right now. And that was done to help people practice social distancing — to make it easier for sick people to stay at home. And so I think the other message is: stay home. This is not the time to be planning play dates.