Medically Reviewed on 6/25/2021
Understand the symptoms of COVID-19 in children and how to manage them
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, approximately 13% of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are children.
Though children are vulnerable to COVID-19, most kids under the age of 14 are less likely to become infected, and symptoms are often less severe. Babies, however, under 12 months of age are susceptible to severe infection due to their undeveloped immune systems and smaller airways.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are the same as the flu, which include:
- Body ache
- Loss of taste and smell (rare)
- Cough (dry or productive)
- Difficulty in breathing
- Congestion or runny nose
- Poor appetite
- Loose stools
- Sore throat
According to research, COVID-19 affects children slightly differently. Below is approximate data collected from those studies:
- 33% were asymptomatic
- 55% had fatigue
- 54% had a headache
- 50% had a fever
- 38% had sore throat
- 35% skipped meals
- 15% had an unusual skin rash
- 13% had diarrhea
How contagious is COVID-19 in children?
The COVID-19 virus spreads easily through:
- Skin to skin contact
The virus can also live on objects that have been in contact with an infected person’s mouth, nose, hands, or body fluids.
Symptoms may appear soon after exposure to the virus and can last for 2-7 days. The incubation period is about 1-14 days. This means the virus can infect people up to 14 days before symptoms start to appear.
Symptoms vary in children, with some not showing any symptoms at all and others experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. Recovery from symptoms such as fatigue and cough may take several weeks, depending on how severe the illness is.
How can I tell if my child has COVID-19 or the flu?
Because many COVID-19 symptoms resemble flu symptoms, it is difficult to determine which illness your child has without a definitive test.
If you or your child have symptoms indicative of either illness, visit your nearest emergency room to get tested for both viruses as soon as possible. ER and urgent care centers offer influenza testing and rapid and reliable forms of COVID-19 testing, including the coronavirus antibody test.
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How are COVID-19 symptoms in children managed?
There is currently no specific treatment for COVID-19 that can make it go away faster. If your child is diagnosed with COVID-19, their doctor will let you know how to manage symptoms.
Mild to moderate cases
Most children with moderate or mild disease can be managed with supportive care at home (getting enough rest, increasing fluid intake, and managing the fever with medication, such as acetaminophen).
In children with severe COVID-19, supportive care may help relieve symptoms. Treatment may also include supporting vital organ functions, such as:
- Respiratory ventilation and therapies maintain oxygen saturation
- Thromboprophylaxis and antithrombotic therapy (blood thinners)
- Management of shock
- Acute kidney injury and renal replacement therapies (RRT)
Treatment for hospitalized children with COVID-19 may include antiviral and steroid medication depending on the child’s age and disease severity
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a new syndrome that occurs in a minority of children with prior SARS-CoV-2 infection (COVID-19).
- Mild cases include minimal signs of inflammation, no signs of cardiac involvement, and no signs of shock (may not initially require treatment).
- Most severe cases require significant vasoactive-inotropic interventions and ventilatory support. These cases may cause moderate or severe organ injury.
The FDA has granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) to the Pfizer-Biotech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine (BNT162b2) to prevent COVID-19 in children aged 12 years old and older.
Since the disease is still being studied, there are still many unknown things about COVID-19, including how it affects children. If you are taking care of a child with COVID-19 at home, take precautions to prevent further transmission of the virus.
Medically Reviewed on 6/25/2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 in Children and Teens. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children/symptoms.html
University Hospitals. Coronavirus in Children & Young Adults. https://www.uhhospitals.org/rainbow/services/coronavirus-in-children
National Institutes of Health. Special Considerations in Children. https://www.covid19treatmentguidelines.nih.gov/special-populations/children/
Mayo Clinic. COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Babies and Children. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-in-babies-and-children/art-20484405