COVID-19 is a viral illness that can affect your child’s nose, throat, lungs and organs.
It spreads when people breathe in or touch droplets that carry the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. This virus belongs to the same family as the common cold.
Signs and symptoms
Your child could have mild to severe symptoms, including:
- fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose
- headache, muscle or joint pain
- diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting
- losing their appetite, sense of smell or taste
- racing heart or feeling dizzy
- feeling tired or problems with sleep, memory and concentration.
Symptoms can last several weeks and you might think they have a cold, the flu or allergies. If you’re not sure, check your child’s COVID-19 symptoms on the healthdirect website.
If your child still has symptoms after 12 weeks, they may have Long COVID. You can find out more about long COVID on the Australian Government website.
Some children develop paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome after having COVID-19. This is a rare, but more serious condition that causes severe swelling all over the body.
When to get help
Call Triple Zero (000) if your child has:
- trouble breathing
- chest pain or a racing heart
- a dizzy feeling that gets worse when they move
- trouble talking, or they can’t understand what people say
- weakness in their face, arms or legs, especially on one side of their body.
If you're not sure whether to go to an emergency department, call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) and speak to a registered nurse.
See your GP if your child has anxiety, thoughts of self-harm, or common symptoms that last more than 12 weeks.
Diagnosis and tests
There are 2 types of tests, and both use a sample of saliva or mucous from the mouth or nose. You can help prepare your child for the test by watching our video about having one.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test – a GP respiratory clinic or private pathology provider will do the test and send you the results.
- Rapid antigen test (RAT) kit – you can get this from a pharmacy and do the test at home, but it may not be as accurate as a PCR test.
There’s no set treatment for COVID-19. Most children get well on their own and make a full recovery.
Your child can have paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease their pain or fever. Make sure you give them the right dose for their age.
If your child is severely ill or can't breathe, they may need more care in hospital.
Care at home
While isolation is no longer a legal requirement, if your child tests positive for COVID-19, they should stay at home to prevent spreading the infection to others.
Your child’s symptoms could get worse over the first few days, so check them often. Ask how they feel and make sure their breathing, eating and drinking are normal. Check they have a normal amount of wee, and not too little.
If your child has vomiting or diarrhoea, keep them well hydrated.
Always trust your instincts and seek medical advice if you have any concerns
Protecting your child and others
COVID-19 vaccines are free and help reduce symptoms. The Australian Government recommends vaccines for everyone aged 5 and over.
Your child might be more likely to have serious illness from COVID-19 if they:
- are Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander peoples
- live in a remote area with limited health care
- have disability, a weakened immune system or certain health conditions.
For more information
Last updated: October 2023