Children can catch coronavirus, as it's been proven time and again over the last six months, but when they do it tends to be less of a serious health concern.
Although much wasn’t known about the coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic, especially the symptoms to look out for in children, it was confidently reported that it was having less of a debilitating effect on their health than it was for adults. It’s perhaps one of the reassuring factors that led government ministers to allow schools to reopen in September under new safety measures and better social distancing guidelines in schools.
Now we’re down the line a bit, we know more about coronavirus as a whole and how it can effect both older and younger children. With this in mind and flu season fast approaching, it’s more important than ever that we are vigilant about noticing the tell-tale signs of coronavirus in children and the differences between coronavirus and flu. But not only that, with more exposure to the virus via school and their friends, it’s necessary to be able to recognise the key coronavirus symptoms in children so they can get tested and self-isolate, to avoid spreading the virus on.
Luckily, it’s becoming easier to get a test for coronavirus as testing sites and online kits are now widely available. The government has also outlined when parents and guardians should take their children for a test, emphasising the need for them only to get tested if they have symptoms. Professor Viv Bennett CBE, Chief Nurse and Director Maternity and Early Years, Public Health England, and Interim Chief Medical Officer, NHS Test & Trace, Dr Susan Hopkins, wrote the letter to ‘share some information on how we can work together to make sure we can continue to give children and young people the best education in the safest way possible.’
So what are the symptoms of Covid in kids? And when should you take a child to be tested?
What are symptoms of Covid-19 in kids?
The symptoms of Covid-19 in children are much the same as in adults, so it’s easy to know what to look out for.
Symptoms of Covid-19 in kids include:
- A high temperature
- A new, continuous cough
- A loss or change to sense of smell or taste
But the NHS advises that you should seek medical help via the 111 service (for children over 5 years old) or contact your GP surgery if your child:
- Is under three months old and has a temperature of 38C or higher
- Is three to six months old and has a temperature of 39C or higher
- Has other signs of illness like a rash, as well as a high temperature
- Has a high temperature that’s lasted for 5 days or more
- Does not want to eat, or is not their usual self and you are worried
- Has a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol
- Is dehydrated (i.e. nappies are not very wet, they have sunken eyes and don’t cry tears)
While these aren’t necessarily the symptoms of Covid-19, they are similar to the ones that children show when they have the virus. There are more serious symptoms to look out for when you’re checking your child for symptoms of coronavirus, however. If you find any of these, it’s vital that you call 999 immediately for medical help as they could be suffering with something more dangerous, such as meningitis.
When to call 999:
- Child has a stiff neck
- They have a rash that does not fade when you press a glass against it
- They are bothered by light
- The child has a seizure or fit for the first time (they cannot stop shaking)
- They have unusually cold hands and feet
- They have pale, blotchy, blue or grey skin
- They have a weak, high-pitched cry that’s not like their usual cry
- Child is drowsy and hard to wake
- Child is extremely agitated (does not stop crying) or is confused
- They find it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs
- They a soft spot on their head that curves outwards
- They are not responding like they usually do, or not interested in feeding or usual activities
What about the rash associated with coronavirus in kids?
At the beginning of the outbreak, medical professionals issued an urgent alert about a supposedly coronavirus-related condition, due to a rash that had appeared on some children who had been diagnosed with the virus. Some believe this rash is a symptom of a worrying inflammatory syndrome, similar to Kawasaki disease which affects 8 in 10,000 children every year, but not with entirely similar symptoms.
Experts believe that the inflammatory disease is likely a reaction of the body to either a current or past coronavirus infection but they are not entirely sure, as many of those children who contracted the infection later tested negative for Covid despite having symptoms.
While this inflammatory disease is notably rare with 100 cases in 12.7 million children, it is serious and the rash could be a symptom of the condition. Other things to look out for, indicating that the rash is a symptom of the inflammatory disease include a prolonged fever, conjunctivitis, stomach ache, vomiting and/or diarrhoea, swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, swollen hands and/or feet and an unusual sleepiness.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, Dr Liz Whittaker from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said, “We would encourage any parent who’s worried about their child to take them to either their GP or to A&E if they’re worried, because it’s more likely they’re unwell with another condition, rather than this inflammatory condition.”
It has since been reported that a rash could be more related to coronavirus than previously thought, with some researchers arguing that it could be a “key diagnostic sign” of Covid-19. Researchers from the Covid Symptom Study surveyed 12,000 people who had skin rashes as well as suspected symptoms of coronavirus. They found that eight per cent of people who tested positive for the virus in the study also had some form of rash, with one in five people reporting that the rash was the first symptom of the virus they had. Almost a quarter also said that the rash was the only symptom they had.
So while the NHS currently still lists the three major symptoms as ones to look out for, it’s important to consider any abnormal rashes in children as potentially symptoms of Covid-19. If you suspect that your child may have symptoms of Covid 19, it’s essential that you follow government and NHS advice on self-isolating, washing your hands and seeking medical help.
What about long Covid in children?
Long Covid is a condition that is only just emerging a serious, debilitating problem for adults who are suffering from it. It’s one of the reasons that coronavirus is worse than flu, as suffers are those who have recovered from Covid-19 only to still be suffering symptoms some months later. In children, however, there have been less known cases.
Dr Tim Ubhi is a consultant paediatrician and founder of The Children’s e-Hospital. He says, “Long COVID in children isn’t a formally recognised entity yet, but we need to go through a process of surveillance and epidemiological studies over the next year or two to ensure that children are not affected by this syndrome. What we do know is that children are not significantly affected by COVID-19, but whether or not some children progress to an ME or chronic fatigue like syndrome remains to be seen.”
“The most important thing is to keep an open mind and look at the evidence.” Dr Ubhi stresses, “With children now back at school it’s difficult to differentiate between typical autumn/winter bugs and coronavirus. Any child with a temperature, cough or loss of taste/smell needs to be tested.”
When should you take a child to be tested for coronavirus?
Laid out in the letter, published in late September, the government officials said that parents and guardians should only book a test if the child has any of the major coronavirus symptoms. Listed as: a high temperature, a new continuous cough, a loss of or change in the sense of smell or taste, they’ve said that children do not need a test if they just have a runny nose, are sneezing or are feeling ill. These point to the common cold or flu instead.
If your child does have symptoms, however, it’s important to have them tested. But the letter stresses that only the child (or other household member) with symptoms should be tested, while all other members of the household self-isolate and wait for the results. If the test comes back positive, then the household should continue self-isolating for 14 days and the child should be kept home from school, with the school’s knowledge and online learning should take place where possible.
The letter also notes that if a child in a class or ‘bubble’ tests positive for coronavirus and the bubble is taken out of school, anyone in the class who doesn’t have symptoms is not required to get a test but they do need to self-isolate.