An infectious diseases expert addresses burning questions from parents on the novel coronavirus and their children.

As the number of COVID-19 cases surges worldwide, parents are understandably eager to ensure that their little ones don’t fall prey to the very contagious coronavirus disease 2019.

On Tuesday, a seemingly healthy teenage boy died from COVID-19 in Los Angeles in the United States of America (USA). It is the first-known death from the COVID-19 infection, although the disease is usually milder among children.

In Singapore, a year-old baby boy ― the second youngest in Singapore to contract the virus ― made a full recovery and was discharged on 20 February, just two days after being hospitalised. He was the quickest-discharged Covid-19 patient in the Republic’s history.

Surprisingly, infants, babies and children do very well with Covid-19. The numbers infected are incredibly small, as if the children do not develop any illness from it.”

Indeed, based on available evidence, the USA-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states that children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults as the latter makes up most of the known cases to date.

While COVID-19 symptoms are similar in children and adults, children with confirmed COVID-19 usually have mild cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Do bring junior to see a doctor as soon as they show symptoms. This said, there are still many unknowns about the novel coronavirus, since COVID-19 only emerged in December 2019 and research is ongoing.

The Ministry of Health has advised that if the public is well and are not showing any of the symptoms mentioned above, they won’t need to wear a mask. Only unwell people with respiratory symptoms should put on masks, so as not to spread any infection to others.

Infectious diseases expert Dr Leong Hoe Nam answers all your COVID-19 questions relating to babies and kids.

Is it safer to keep my baby (he goes to infantcare) and preschooler at home, so that they’re less likely to catch the COVID-19 virus?

Yes, you may keep the preschooler at home, but the benefit may not be much. Surprisingly, infants, babies and children do very well with Covid-19. The numbers infected are incredibly small, as if the children do not develop any illness from it. We have not seen individuals being infected from the children as well.

My kid puts everything in his mouth ― will he be safe in childcare?

Even if the child is infected, they have extremely mild symptoms and will develop a long-lasting immunity to it.  I would be more worried about Hand, Foot & Mouth disease.

A 6-month-old as well as a 12-month-old baby in Singapore were victims of COVID-19 ― would flu jabs have prevented them from getting the disease?

No. Flu jabs are for influenza. These are viruses, but of a completely different type. But I would still recommend the flu jab if you have a 6-month-old as influenza seems to have a bigger risk for a 6-month-old than COVID-19. 


How can I boost my child’s (baby as well as toddler) immunity to ensure that they don’t fall ill?

A healthy diet, breastfeeding (if they are still breastfed) ― these are good measures.  

How can I prevent my children from getting COVID-19?

Avoid meeting individuals outside the family. The same way as adults would ― practise social distancing maintain a distance of at least 1 to 2 metres, and avoid touching your face. Practise hand hygiene frequently.  

Should I avoid bringing my children to an indoor playground?

The virus does not survive so well outdoors, so, the outdoors is preferred. I would be more concerned with the adults accompanying the child at the playground as other parents may be sick. But again, children do very well. 

Are outdoor play areas like the park and swimming pools safe for my kids?

The risk is meeting anyone within 1 to 2 metres, though the risk to children is limited. The outdoors is great because the hot humid environment makes it difficult for the virus to survive. Swimming pools are great because the water kills the virus. Adequately chlorinated water in pools is known to kill most respiratory viruses.­­­ Go head, have some fun.

When should I bring my sick child to the doctor (since a person with COVID-19 might be sitting next to us in the GP’s waiting area)?

I would be more concerned of other common cold viruses or even influenza. Again, these are more symptomatic in children than Covid-19. Should you take the child to a doctor maintain a 1 to 2 metre distance between patients. Sit outside or in well-ventilated areas. Avoid touching your faces. If your child is unwell, they should wear a mask.  

Should you take the child to a doctor maintain a 1 to 2 metre distance between patients. Sit outside or in well-ventilated areas. Avoid touching your faces. If your child is unwell, they should wear a mask.

I can’t find a child-sized mask ― can my kid wear an adult one?

Yes, you may need to trim or secure the sides of a mask, and shorten the ear loops of the mask to fit it over the child.

The June holidays are around the corner, since there are so many travel restrictions, should I organise a staycation or should I just stay home with the kids?

Both are fine ― with the right measures [see sidebar below for more info].

Beyond the usual precautions, wash hands, don't touch face and so on, any additional precautions I should take when I go out with my kids (who touch everything!)?

Kids love to touch anything and everything. I find having a misting alcohol spray (70 per cent) helpful. I spray on their hands and in moments, it evaporates. If you do it in an enclosed area, remember to air the area. This is a perfect opportunity to learn hand hygiene ― check out this video ― it’s really fun as kids get to learn how to wash their hands. It’s an abridged version of hand hygiene, which works out great for younger children, or children with special needs. They learn about the virus, too. 

Wellness advice everyone should follow

Dr Leong has stay-healthy advice for the entire family.

How can I protect myself from the virus?
Wash with your hands with soap and water before touching your face. If you are unwell, put on a surgical mask.

How does washing hands help?
We may inadvertently touch our eyes, nose or mouth, even while wearing a mask. Keeping our hands clean will protect our faces. 

Are hand sanitisers useful?
Yes, use alcohol-based hand sanitisers on your hands and dry them thereafter. However, refrain from using wipes, as they tend to spread germs around.

Should I be worried about my medical appointment at the hospital?
The chances of picking up COVID-19 at the hospital is low. Make an appointment to see your doctor. Stick to your schedule, go for the appointment and come back quickly.

Why shouldn't we doctor-hop?
When you doctor-hop, the doctor may fail to appreciate the gravity of your case if you have been infected and the changes in you as the disease progresses.

What lessons can we learn from this outbreak?
Whether it’s COVID-19 or influenza, we should use our common sense. Things like using a serving spoon, not sharing utensils or tooth brush, and so on. Even when we do cough, the virus may still be inside the tissue, so roll it up and discard it into a bin.

Do you have any other tips?
Take note of your mobile phone which we use so regularly. Clean it with a piece of alcohol wipe, at least three times a day. Avoid shaking hands. Try alternatives like a good wave or a simple bow.

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