As parents, our number one goal in life is to keep our children healthy and safe. As COVID-19 continues to spread and stress levels continue to rise, it's easy to ride the wave of panic and let it overwhelm us, especially when it comes to our kids. But it's important to remember that children around the world are not feeling the effects of the virus as severely as older people.
In fact, children have been found to be infected, but most show very mild symptoms, and some display no symptoms at all. They have it, but it's not making them sick. Which sounds great. No one wants their kid to be sick, but the downside is, even though they aren't showing symptoms, they're likely still contagious, which leads to a whole new set of problems—namely, undetected community spread.
A paper published in the journal Science explains that up to 86 percent of infections are likely due to undocumented exposure—transmission of the virus by asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic carriers. And there's now evidence of fecal shedding, which means the virus passes through the digestive tract intact. Exerts don't yet know the likelihood of transmission by this route, but it raises concern, especially for those who change diapers frequently.
So what should parents be more concerned about, their child getting sick or their child contributing to community spread?
As more schools close and more people self-quarantine, the theory is that there will be less risk of exposure and of transmission. But, total isolation is almost impossible in such an interconnected world—we still have to shop for food or go to the laundromat—so the risk isn't completely gone. And not all schools have closed, which may increase the likelihood of children becoming "super spreaders."
Since children don't show symptoms as readily as adults, there might be potential for schools to become ground-zero for transmission, spreading between children who then return home and spread to family members. The risk is especially worrying for those who live in intergenerational homes–where grandparents or other older relatives share space with asymptomatic kids.
Luckily, the procedures for preventing infection and preventing spread are the same–hand-washing and proper hygiene. According to the chief of pediatric infectious disease at Tufts University, H. Cody Meissner, M.D., who is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, hygiene is key. "I can't overemphasize hand-washing. That is one of the major routes by which this virus is spread, so use soap and water—20 seconds or so of soap and water. If you can't, then one of the alcohol-containing hand sanitizer products would be a reasonable alternative. But we have to teach people. If you're going to sneeze, sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue away, then wash your hands. If you can't sneeze into a tissue, then sneeze into your elbow." And if you sneeze into your elbow, beware of elbow bumping!
If your family is able to self-quarantine to limit exposure, you should. Keeping children away from older adults will go a long way to slowing the spread of the virus.