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Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service

COVID-19 and children fact sheet

COVID-19 and children

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a strain of coronavirus called SARS-Cov-2. It causes a mild illness in most people but for others it can cause a severe respiratory and multi-organ disease.  International data has shown that serious illness from COVID-19 is extremely rare in children – but it can occur.  Based on what we currently know about coronaviruses, those most at risk of serious infection are:

  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (as they have higher rates of chronic illness)
  • people with chronic medical conditions.

Vaccination provides safe and effective protection from severe COVID-19 disease.

How does it spread?

COVID-19 is transmitted when people breathe in air contaminated by droplets and small airborne particles. The risk of breathing these in is highest when people are in close proximity, but they can be inhaled over longer distances, particularly indoors. To protect yourself, it’s important to practice good hygiene (hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, disposing of tissues etc.) and practice physical distancing (of at least 1.5 metres) from others, and wear a mask when physically distancing isn’t possible.

Symptoms

Everyone who gets COVID-19 will experience it a little differently. Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • runny nose
  • diarrhoea
  • vomiting or nausea
  • loss of the sense of smell or taste
  • muscle or joint pain
  • loss of appetite.

Most people who are vaccinated will experience mild symptoms. People are not vaccinated can expect more severe symptoms.

Note: The symptoms of COVID-19 can be very similar to the symptoms of flu, a cold or allergies.  It’s important to always get tested to be sure.

Testing also helps stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community and protect vulnerable older people and those with underlying medical conditions.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for COVID-19 infection in children. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. However, most of the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated with medical care.

Most children and young people will not become seriously unwell with COVID-19 and the symptoms can be easily managed at home. Children identified as potentially being at risk of more serious illness may also be cared for at home, but with the support of a GP or other healthcare provider.
Some children will need to be treated in hospital or the paediatric intensive care unit, but most children are expected to recover fully.

Care at home

If your child has COVID-19 they must isolate at home for 7 full days from the date the had the positive test result.

If your child is irritable or in pain, you can give them paracetamol and ibuprofen (for babies over 3 months) to manage fevers above 38 degrees – always follow the recommended dosage instructions on the pack. There is no need to treat a fever if you child is generally well and happy. If your child has vomiting or diarrhoea it is important to keep them well hydrated.

If you’re unsure if your child can be safely cared for at home, you can use the COVID care self-checker. This clinical self-assessment tool will help you understand what level of care your child needs based on their symptoms and other risk factors.

For more information, see Caring for a child with COVID-19 at home.

Monitoring your child’s condition
While your child is isolating and being cared for at home, you should monitor their condition regularly. It’s possible they may have mild symptoms at first, but could become sicker over time. Always trust your instincts and seek medical advice if you have any concerns.

Ask the following questions three times a day (i.e. morning, afternoon and night):

  • Are they feeling well and behaving normally?
  • Are they eating?
  • Are they drinking enough fluids?
  • Are they urinating (weeing) less than normal?
  • Are they breathing normally?

If you notice any of the above changes in your child, or are concerned that they are becoming more unwell, call the National Coronavirus (COVID) Helpline – 1800 020 080.

When to seek urgent help
Call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance if your child:

  • collapses or faints
  • is having difficulty breathing
  • has chest pain
  • has severe or worsening abdominal pain
  • has stopped urinating or is urinating much less than usual.
  • is drowsy or sleepy.

Please tell the 000 operator that your child is COVID-19 positive in home isolation.

Paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome

A very small number of children (less than 0.5 %) around the world have developed paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS-TS) after recovering from COVID-19. This condition causes different parts of the body to become inflamed, usually between two to four weeks after infection. Most children will recover fully from PIMS-TS, but it’s important to seek medical help immediately by calling 000 if your child has discoloured or blotchy skin, skin that is very pale or bluish, trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, seems confused or you are unable to wake them or keep them awake.

Key points

  • COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a strain of coronavirus called SARS-Cov-2.
  • Anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested, even if symptoms are mild.
  • Most cases of COVID-19 in children are mild. Some children may require treatment in hospital or paediatric intensive care.
  • Vaccination provides safe and effective protection from COVID-19

For more information

Children’s Health Queensland COVID-19 information
COVID-19 vaccination

Developed by the Infectious Diseases Department, Queensland Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of consumers and carers.

Resource ID: FS139 Reviewed: February 2022

Disclaimer
This information has been produced by healthcare professionals as a guideline only and is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your child’s doctor or healthcare professionals. Information is updated regularly, so please check you are referring to the most recent version. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

CHQ