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Coronavirus: What About My Kids?

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Hansa Bhargava, MD - Blogs
By Hansa D. Bhargava, MDBoard-certified pediatricianFebruary 28, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

Editor's Note: For the latest updates on the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, see our news coverage.

Coronavirus is here.

And yes, the CDC says it will probably spread. Should we as parents be worried?

Since being recognized in China, more than 45 countries have reported cases. Some countries have increased quarantines and Japan even shut down their schools. More than 80,000 people are infected with it.

But how serious is the infection and how many can die from it? A recent study found the death rate to be 2.3%. That’s about 2-3 people in 100 infected but more than the flu. Although we are still learning about it, this is relatively low compared to other world epidemic infections such as SARS, which was closer to 10%. 

And there’s some comforting news for kids. Only a handful of kids have been infected worldwide. And by first reports, the kids are not getting that sick and seem to do better with it than most adults. In fact, out of nine infants that did contract the virus in China, none of them had severe illness or required to be in the hospital.

And here’s some other important information: There are only about 60 cases in all of the United States, and the majority of those are in passengers who were evacuated from the cruise ship Diamond Princess. Just to compare, the CDC estimates that there are 29 million people infected with the flu, with more than 280,000 hospitalizations and 16,000 deaths. And unfortunately, 105 of those flu deaths are in children.

A good way to think about this might be looking at the number of students in your son or daughter’s elementary school. If there were 300 students in their  school, and 29 had flu and 2 people were hospitalized,  which would you be more concerned about, the flu or a case of coronavirus you heard about in another state?

This is not to say that coronavirus is not serious. The CDC, the World Health Organization and other countries are worried because this virus is new, unknown and seems to spread quickly. We just don’t know enough about it and the public health officials want to be careful until they do know more. It has an incubation period of 2 days to 14 days, so you could have it without symptoms for days. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath and fatigue. Also, there have been some case reports of it being spread by people who don’t have symptoms. And lastly, it seems that if you get it, the cough and other symptoms can persist for a few weeks.

So what can you do as a parent?

Just like any other infection including colds and the flu, the best way to treat it is to prevent it. And this means getting back to basics. Here are some ways I prevent infection in my home with my own kids.

  1. Hand wash, hand wash, hand wash. This is one of the most effective ways to avoid viruses and germs. But you have to do it right. Wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Have your kids wash their hands as soon as they get back from school or child care. AND wash their hands before they eat. You can use hand sanitizer if water is not available, but make sure the alcohol content is 60% or more.
  2. If the children have a cough, teach them to cough into their shoulder. Cough droplets can travel many feet, and this is how viruses spread.
  3.  Viruses can live on surfaces for 24 hours. And laptops and smart devices are constantly being touched. Make sure you wipe counters, door handles and computers often.
  4. Have good nutrition and sleep. Vegetables and fruits contain vitamins that can help our immune system; and sleep can also help ‘arm’ our immune system, in case it comes in contact with an infection.
  5. If you’re sick, please, please stay home. Keep the kids at home if they are sick. This is to help contain the infection, but also, so you and/or the kids can get rest and get better. This is an important step we often forget.

Should you wear a mask?The short answer is, no. They really don’t protect you. But if you are sick, wearing one could protect others.

What about stocking water and other necessities? If you or your family gets sick, it would be nice to have supplies at home, so that you don’t have to run out. And it protects others from getting the infection. But you don’t have to do this because we aren’tworried about massive shutdowns.

What if I have a sick family member? The coronavirus, just like other viruses, is more serious in the elderly or people who have underlying health issues such as heart failure or diabetes. Protect these family members and if they start showing symptoms, call your doctor immediately.

Finally, be an advocate and keep your ear to the ground. Talk to your school about their policies around viruses, as well as your workplace. When there is potential for many to get infected, maybe a policy could be put out to encourage people to stay home if they are sick.

Coronavirus is here but from what we know so far, it is a mild infection for most people. Using old fashioned prevention tips can protect you – not just from coronavirus, but also colds, coughs, flu and other nasty infections.


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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Medscape Education and a board-certified pediatrician. She is the author of Building Happier Kids: Stress-busting Tools for Parents. With expertise in parenting, mental health, and pregnancy, she has helped develop the WebMD Baby App and WebMD Pregnancy App. A regular contributor to Forbes, she is frequently interviewed by major news outlets on issues of health and well-being in children. In addition to her work at Medscape Education, she has collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is an elected executive member of the AAP Committee on Communications and Media.

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