Novel coronavirus outbreak: What parents should know

Questions and answers about the novel coronavirus

Celcia Soares Baros, 6 years, rubs her hands thoroughly with soap at Escola Vila Verde in Dili, Timor-Leste.
Antti Helin
12 February 2020

The epidemic caused by the new coronavirus, which broke out in China at the end of last year, continues to be a topic of interest to the whole world. Globally, UNICEF addresses parents' concerns and provides them with some information about the spread of the virus and the measures by which children and adults can be protected.

What is the novel coronavirus?

The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a new virus linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of common cold.

How is the novel coronavirus spread?

The virus is transmitted by direct contact, respiratory droplets (coughing or sneezing), and touching virus contaminated surfaces. It is not yet known how long the virus survives on surfaces, but simple disinfectants can kill it.

What are the symptoms of novel coronavirus?

Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. 

How can I avoid the risk of infection?

Here are four precautions that can be taken to avoid infection:

  1. Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub 
  2. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  3. Avoid close contact with anyone who has cold or flu-like symptoms
  4. Go to the doctor if you have a fever, cough or feel that it is difficult to breathe.

Should I wear a medical mask?

The use of a medical mask is advised if you have respiratory symptoms (coughing or sneezing) to protect others. If you don’t have any symptoms, then there is no need to wear a mask. 

If masks are worn, they must be used and disposed of properly to ensure their effectiveness and to avoid any increased risk of transmitting the virus. 

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).

Does the novel coronavirus affect children?

This is a new virus and we do not know enough yet about how it affects children or pregnant women. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected with the virus, but so far there have been no reported fatalities of children linked to the novel coronavirus. The virus is fatal in rare cases, so far mainly among older people with pre-existing medical conditions.

We are closely monitoring the situation and will update as new information becomes available.

What should I do if a family member displays symptoms?

You should seek medical care early if you or your child has a fever, cough or difficulty breathing. Tell your health care provider if you have traveled to an area where the novel coronavirus 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.

Can pregnant women pass the novel 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 herself 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 novel coronavirus?

All mothers in affected and at-risk areas with 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 could continue breastfeeding.

However, precautions should be taken as there is a risk of transmission from mother to infant through respiratory droplets and direct contact, as well as indirectly through contaminated surfaces. Wear a mask when feeding a child, wash hands before and after feedings, and clean/disinfect contaminated surfaces.

If a mother is too ill, she should be encouraged to express milk and give it to the child via a clean cup and/or spoon – all while following the same infection prevention methods.

What is UNICEF doing to help? 

A UNICEF shipment of respiratory masks and protective suits for health workers landed in Shanghai, China, on 29 January to support China’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak. UNICEF will be sending more items in the coming days and weeks.

What is UNICEF doing to help? 

UNICEF is in close contact with the Chinese authorities, including the Ministry of Commerce and the National Health Commission, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other UN agencies to monitor developments and needs as the situation further unfolds. UNICEF will also work with WHO and partners for a coordinated response in China and other affected countries, as well as to enhance preparedness in at-risk countries.

For more information on the novel coronavirus see the WHO website