Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): What parents should know
How to protect yourself and your children.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has upended the lives of children and their families around the world. As COVID-19 has spread, so has misinformation – fueling discrimination and stigma. UNICEF is working with health experts to promote facts over fear, bringing trustworthy guidance and answering some of the questions families might have.
What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease – is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.
COVID-19 has been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. What does that mean?
Characterizing COVID-19 as a pandemic is not an indication that the virus has become deadlier. Rather, it’s an acknowledgment of the disease’s geographical spread.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Many COVID-19 symptoms are similar to those of the flu, the common cold and other conditions, so a test is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus and can range from very mild to severe illness. Some people who are or have been infected don’t have any symptoms.
The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and tiredness. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, confusion, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and skin rashes. In addition to these symptoms, infants may have difficulty feeding.
Children of any age can become ill with COVID-19. While children and adults experience similar symptoms, children generally have less serious illness than adults. (See “Does COVID-19 affect children?”)
Symptoms requiring urgent medical attention include difficulty breathing/fast or shallow breathing (also grunting, inability to breastfeed in infants), blue lips or face, chest pain or pressure, confusion, inability to awaken/not interacting, inability to drink or keep down any liquids, severe stomach pain.
Also, there is a vaccine for the flu – so remember to keep yourself and your child up to date with vaccinations.
How does the COVID-19 virus spread?
The virus is spread mainly when respiratory droplets from an infected person (generated through coughing, sneezing, talking, singing) get into the mouth, nose or eyes of people who are nearby. People may also become infected by touching their mouth, nose or eyes after touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. The COVID-19 virus may also survive on surfaces for a few hours to several days, although simple disinfectants can kill it.
Airborne transmission of the virus, also known as aerosol transmission, can occur in health care settings where certain medical procedures generate very small droplets, called aerosols, that linger in the air. In addition, you’ve probably heard reports about the possibility of short-range airborne transmission – particularly in poorly ventilated, crowded indoor spaces, where people who are infected are spending extended periods of time close to others. So far, the evidence suggests that airborne transmission of COVID-19 over long distances is unlikely.
Based on what we currently know, transmission of COVID-19 is primarily occurring from people when they have symptoms (including mild symptoms), and can also happen just before they develop symptoms, when they are in close proximity with others for prolonged periods of time. While someone who never develops symptoms can also pass the virus to others, there’s ongoing research into how often this is the case.
Which vaccines are available?
Vaccines for COVID-19 are critical tools for helping bring the pandemic under control when combined with effective testing and existing prevention measures. With several promising vaccine candidates in the pipeline, some under review for approval and the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines approved for use by a number of stringent national regulatory bodies, the race for a safe and effective vaccine has entered into a new phase. The vaccines approved for use are currently available for adults and adolescents 16 years and older. Developing a safe and effective vaccine takes time, but thanks to the unprecedented investment in research and development and global cooperation, scientists have been able to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 in record time, while still maintaining robust, evidence-based and rigorous regulatory standards.
How can I protect myself and others from COVID-19?
Here are some precautions you and your family can take to help avoid infection:
- Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub (Read: Everything you need to know about washing your hands to protect against COVID-19)
- Cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of used tissue immediately
- Keep at least 1 metre distance between yourself and others
- Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like phones, doorknobs, light switches and countertops
- Seek medical care early if you or your child has a fever, cough, difficulty breathing or other symptoms of COVID-19
- Avoid crowded places, confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, and try to practice physical distancing from people in public
- Wear fabric masks when in public places where there is community transmission and where physical distancing is not possible
- Keep all indoor spaces well ventilated
Should I wear a mask?
WHO advises that people always consult and abide by local authorities on recommended practices in their area. In our country, wearing a protective face covering is mandatory in all closed and open public spaces, including markets, shops, banks, post offices, health facilities, and public transport.
Masks must be used and disposed of properly to ensure their effectiveness and to avoid any increased risk of transmitting the virus. Disposable face masks can only be used once.
- Here are the basics of how to wear a mask:
- Clean your hands before you put your mask on, as well as before and after you take it off, and after you touch it at any time.
- Make sure it covers both your nose, mouth and chin.
- When you take off a mask, store it in a clean plastic bag, and every day either wash it if it’s a fabric mask, or dispose of a medical mask in a trash bin.
- Don’t use masks with valves.
The use of a mask alone is not enough to stop infections and must be combined with frequent hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, fever)
Should children wear a mask?
Masks help stop the COVID-19 virus from spreading, but that doesn’t make them easy to introduce to children, as many parents have been discovering. Follow the global guidance and tips on how to introduce masks to your family.
Does COVID-19 affect children?
This is a new virus and we are still learning how it affects children or pregnant women. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected and transmit the virus, although older people and/or those with pre-existing medical conditions seem more likely to develop serious illness.
There are reports of a rare but serious multisystem inflammatory syndrome affecting children and adolescents, possibly associated with COVID-19. Clinical features can include but are not limited to: persistent fever; rash; red or pink eyes; swollen and/or red lips, tongue, hands, feet; gastrointestinal problems; low blood pressure; poor blood flow to organs; and other signs of inflammation.
Many of these children have tested positive for COVID-19. However, it is not known for sure whether COVID-19 infection is triggering this condition. So far, these cases have been reported mostly in North America and Europe. We do not know yet whether the condition is present in other parts of the world and just not yet recognized.
Children who have these symptoms should seek medical care. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical, but initial reports suggest most cases responded well to anti-inflammatory treatment.
Children may be disproportionately affected by measures taken to control the COVID-19 outbreak, such as school closures and physical distancing measures. Special attention needs to be paid to prevent and minimize negative consequences for children as much as possible.
What should I do if my child has symptoms of COVID-19?
Seek medical attention but remember that symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough or fever can be similar to those of the flu, or the common cold– which are a lot more frequent.
Continue to follow good hand and respiratory hygiene practices like regular handwashing so that your child is protected against other viruses and bacteria causing diseases.
As with other respiratory infections like the flu, seek care early if you or your child are having symptoms, and try to avoid going to public places (workplace, schools, public transport), to prevent it from spreading to others.
What if you or a family member have symptoms?
You should seek medical care early if you or your child has a fever, cough or difficulty breathing. Follow the Government guidance and call one of the dedicated phone numbers if you have symptoms and especially if your symptom come after you have had contact with someone who has confirmed COVID-19 or you have traveled to an area where COVID-19 has been reported, or if you have been in close contact with someone with who has traveled from one of these areas and has respiratory symptoms.
Should I keep my child home from school or kindergarten if they have symptoms?
If your child is having symptoms, or you suspect someone in your family may have the virus, seek medical care, and follow the instructions from the health care provider. Otherwise, as with other respiratory infections like the flu, your child should stay at home and well-rested., and avoid going to public places, to prevent spread to others.
What is the best way to wash hands properly?
Step 1: Wet hands with running water
Step 2: Apply enough soap to cover wet hands
Step 3: Scrub all surfaces of the hands – including the back of hands, between fingers and under nails – for at least 20 seconds.
Step 4: Rinse thoroughly with running water
Step 5: Dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel
Wash your hands often, especially before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and going to the bathroom.
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water, if hands are visibly dirty. Follow the guidance on everything you need to know about washing your hands to protect against coronavirus (COVID-19).
What precautions should I take for my family if we travel?
Anyone planning a trip should always follow local and national guidance on whether it is advisable to travel. Those traveling should check the advisory for their destination for any restrictions on entry, quarantine requirements on entry, or other relevant travel advice. Follow the same personal protection measures during travel as you would at home.
In addition to taking standard travel precautions, and in order to avoid being quarantined or denied re-entry into your home country, you are also advised to check the latest COVID-19 update on the International Air Transport Association website, which includes a list of countries and restriction measures.
While traveling, all parents should follow standard hygiene measures for themselves and their children, such as washing hands properly and avoiding close contact with anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
Additional recommendations include: Clean your seat, armrest, touchscreen of the smart phone, tablet or computer, etc. with a disinfecting wipe once inside an aircraft or other vehicle. Also use a disinfecting wipe to clean key surfaces, doorknobs, remote controls, etc at the hotel or other accommodation where you and your children are staying.
Can pregnant women pass coronavirus to unborn children?
At this time, there is not enough evidence to determine whether the virus is transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy, or the potential impact this may have on the baby. This is currently being investigated. Pregnant women should continue to follow appropriate precautions to protect themselves from exposure to the virus, and seek medical care early, if experiencing symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing.
Is it safe for a mother to breastfeed if she is infected with coronavirus?
All mothers in affected and at-risk areas who have symptoms of fever, cough or difficulty breathing, should seek medical care early, and follow instructions from a health care provider.
Considering the benefits of breastfeeding and the insignificant role of breastmilk in the transmission of other respiratory viruses, the mother can continue breastfeeding, while applying all the necessary precautions. More on breastfeeding and nutrition during the pandemic:
I’m worried about bullying, discrimination and stigmatization. What’s the best way to talk about what’s happening?
It’s understandable if you’re feeling worried about the coronavirus. But fear and stigma make a difficult situation worse.
Public health emergencies are stressful times for everyone affected. It’s important to stay informed and to be kind and supportive to each other. Words matter and using language that perpetuates existing stereotypes can drive people away from getting tested and taking the actions they need to protect themselves and their communities. More on bullying and mental health during the pandemic:
There’s a lot of information about coronavirus online. What should I do?
There are a lot of myths and misinformation about coronavirus being shared online. UNICEF has launched a COVID-19 page where you can find more information and guidance. It’s also advisable to keep up to date on travel, education and other guidance provided by your national or local authorities for the latest recommendations and news. In addition, the WHO has a useful section addressing some of the most frequently asked questions.