Kids may have subtle differences in COVID-19 symptoms

The most common COVID-19 symptoms in children are a cough, fever or both, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 symptoms in kids are largely the same as adults, but there can be subtle differences.

Common COVID-19 symptoms include cough, fever or both, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There hasn’t been enough evidence yet to single out symptoms of particular COVID-19 variants such as delta. A child with suspected COVID-19 or a child who’s been exposed should get tested.

At this point, we know that the delta variant is more contagious, but we do not yet know whether it makes kids sicker than other variants. The treatment for all COVID-19 variants is the same.

Kids with COVID-19 infection can have one or more of these symptoms, or no symptoms at all

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Cough
  • Nasal congestion
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Poor appetite or poor feeding

Because the symptoms are so general and can be seen with many other infections, health care providers are likely to have your child tested rather than base a diagnosis on symptoms alone.

“One of the frustrating things is that the virus that causes COVID-19 can look like every other virus in children,” said Kristina A. Bryant, M.D., physician with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, and the hospital epidemiologist at Norton Children’s Hospital. “We’ve seen infants with just a fever, kids with vomiting and diarrhea, or even kids who come in with seizures and changes in their mental status. It really runs the gamut of all the symptoms we think of as viral symptoms in kids.”

COVID-19 vaccinations

COVID-19 vaccines are free, safe and effective at preventing serious illness and hospitalization. They are currently available to anyone ages 12 and older.

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Vaccination is an important tool to protect children from COVID-19 infection, including infections caused by the delta variant. Currently, children under 12 can’t be vaccinated, and many of those who are old enough have been slow to get the shot. More than half of 12-to-17-year-old adolescents have had their first dose, and the portion of fully vaccinated eligible kids is approaching 50%, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some families may have delayed immunization because they have heard that COVID-19 does not cause serious illness in kids. While it is true that kids often have milder disease than adults, hospitalization rates among children have been increasing. At Norton Healthcare, out of every 100 kids who test positive, one or two are hospitalized. The CDC reports that nationally, about 1 in 3 of children hospitalized with COVID-19 were in intensive care, similar to the rate among adults. Of the children who have developed severe illness from COVID-19, most have had underlying medical conditions such as obesity, according to the CDC.

Children with COVID-19 are also at risk for developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Norton Children’s was the first pediatric health system in the region to develop a clinic dedicated to MIS-C care. Children are monitored through the multidisciplinary Norton Children’s MIS-C Clinic for any late effects of COVID-19 and treated by a team that can include cardiologists, infectious diseases specialists, rheumatologists, neurologists and gastroenterologists.