Coronavirus: Keep kids well informed, safe

By Dr. Ghuman Muhammad Time of article published Mar 12, 2020

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LIFESTYLE - Dr. Ghuman Muhammad, paediatrician at the Ahmed Al-Kadi Private Hospital in Durban, advises parents on keeping children well informed and safe about Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Human coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses in humans and animals ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.

The Covid-19 virus is a new strain of coronavirus that had not previously caused diseases in humans but has now become capable of infecting people.

The virus was discovered in China, in December last year, and has now spread internationally, as well as to South Africa, this month.

Since we all know that the virus is contagious, it does not seem that children are at higher risk.

Based on what we know, children who have tested positive in China had mild illnesses and some were hospitalised.

As a paediatrician, I would like to advise parents as follows:

Symptoms of Covid-19:

  • People with confirmed cases of Covid-19 have reported mild to severe illnesses. The following symptoms may appear two to 14 days after the exposure.
  • Fever - low to high grade.
  • Persistent cough.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Difficulty in breathing.
  • Body aches and tiredness.
  • Sore throat.
  • Headache.
  • Gastroenteritis.
  • Pneumonia.

How to protect your school-going children

  • The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus, as there is currently no vaccine or treatment available for Covid-19.
  • The following is advised to keep your children healthy and help prevent the spread of Covid-19:
  • Stay calm and mindful, while communicating with your child with a gentle tone of voice and assure them that you are present and there for him/her in case he/she is not well.
  • Try to keep your kids informed but not anxious, by stressing the importance of good hand hygiene, one of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent the spread of illness, including Covid-19.
  • Teach your children to wash their hands often with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60%-95% alcohol, immediately after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
  • The alcohol-based sanitiser should be made available in classrooms and washrooms by school authorities. Parents who can afford it should buy their children a small portable hand sanitiser, which can be carried in their pockets or bags. The rule of thumb is to sanitise hands every hour or when the need arises, especially before eating or drinking and after coughing, sneezing or nose picking.
  • Keep your children away from others who are sick or keep them home if they are ill.
  • Teach children to cough and sneeze into a tissue paper and then discard it in a closed bin. Failing that, sneeze or cough into a bent elbow and not their hands.
  • Clean and disinfect household objects, surfaces and hand railings, door handles and desks at schools.
  • Avoid touching your face and teach your children to do the same.
  • Keep children out of the health care system if it’s not necessary.
  • Avoid travel to highly infected or overcrowded areas.
  • Eat well-cooked meat and eggs because heat will kill the virus in cooked food.
  • Children with chronic illness are at increased risk of developing severe disease.
  • If a child is unwell, don’t send them to school, as it will help prevent the spread of infection to others.

Families are encouraged to stay informed about this situation as we learn more about how to prevent this virus from spreading in homes and in communities.

If your child has been exposed to Covid-19, or you are concerned about your child’s symptoms, call your paediatrician immediately. While some schools have been closed internationally, we are not contemplating it at this stage (as at the time of going to print). Sports and cultural activities should continue as usual.

Students should refrain from engaging with social media postings.

If there is a Covid-19 outbreak in our community, local public health officials may recommend the temporary closing of schools and child-care centres to help slow the spread of illness. If your child attends a college or university, encourage them to learn about the institution’s plan in case of a Covid-19 outbreak.

The consumption of nutrient-rich foods, including fruits, vegetable, legumes and whole grains will help to boost their immune system. Products containing zinc and vitamin C have proven beneficial in assisting with prevention of coughs, cold and flu but there is no evidence that such supplementation or any probiotics will help to prevent or speed up recovery from Covid-19.

International travel

  • Avoid non-essential travel.
  • Children returning to South Africa from other countries must share information about their travel history with health-care providers, stay home for 14 days and practise social distancing.
  • Children who have travelled and are sick with fever, coughing, or have trouble breathing, should call ahead before seeking medical care.
  • For international travel, necessary information should be obtained from relevant authorities or from [email protected]

In case your child has close contact with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19

Monitor their health, starting from the day they had close contact with the person, and continue for 14days.

Watch for signs and symptoms like fever (take and record their temperature twice a day), coughing, and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Also check for chills, body aches, sore throat, headache, diarrhoea, nausea/vomiting, and a runny nose.

  • If your child develops fever or any of these symptoms, call a general practitioner or paediatrician right away, before going to the consulting rooms.
  • Be sure you tell your doctor that your child has been in close contact with someone who is confirmed to have, or being evaluated for, Covid-19 infection.
  • This will help the doctor to take necessary steps to keep other people from getting infected. The doctors may also call the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) team for assistance.
  • If your child does not have any symptoms after 14 days of observation, he/she can continue with daily activities, such as going to school, or other public areas.
  • Health authorities are doing their best and the people of South Africa should play their part in curbing the spread of Covid-19.
  • In the event of any suspected case or for advice, call the general public hotline number at 0800029999.

* Ghuman is a paediatrician at the Ahmed Al-Kadi Private Hospital, Durban

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