Posted on: May 7, 2020 at 6:21 pm

Much to the relief of parents around the world, children seem to have largely been spared in the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite making up 22 percent of the US population, only 1.7 percent of all reported cases of the virus have been in children [1].

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Of the children who have been diagnosed with the virus, only 73 percent developed fever, cough, and shortness of breath. While that sounds like a high percentage, compared with adults who have a 93 percent rate of more severe symptoms, children are faring quite well during this pandemic [1].

While these statistics are encouraging, particularly for parents who are concerned with the health and wellbeing of their children, there are still some children who have to be admitted to the ICU, and sadly, some who have died.

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One young girl who developed a severe case of COVID-19 managed to beat the virus, even after her heart stopped for a full two minutes.

Read: COVID-19’s Effect on the Nervous System

The Girl Who Came Back to Life

Twelve-year-old Juliet Daly is in recovery after a grueling battle with COVID-19. The preteen was airlifted to the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans three weeks ago, where she was diagnosed with a rare heart condition that was caused by inflammation.

Juliet had been experiencing severe stomach pain before being taken to hospital. Despite not exhibiting the typical symptoms for COVID-19, Juliet was diagnosed with the virus, which doctors believe may have triggered the heart condition.

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“COVID-19 can infect the heart, and it can cause the cells in the heart to be unhappy and actually start to die,” said Dr. Jake Kleinmahon, a pediatric cardiologist at Ochsner Medical Center [2].

Juliet described the situation as “really bad”, saying that she didn’t want to move, or even live- she just wanted it all to stop. Doctors needed to hook her up to a ventilator, but as soon as they put the breathing tube down her throat, her heart stopped. They had to perform two full minutes of CPR.

“I died for two minutes,” Juliet said [2].

Experts are now reporting that children seem to be presenting with a different set of symptoms, and although extreme illness in children is rare, doctors from around the world are seeing more cases of children with inflammatory conditions and multi-organ failure.

Juliet, thankfully, has fully recovered, and her mother Jennifer could not be more relieved.

“I’m so grateful the doctors were able to diagnose it so quickly and were able to get her treated,” she said [2].

Read: ‘COVID toes’ seen mostly in kids is ‘probably more rampant than we realize,’ doctors say

Children and COVID-19

Early research from the Chinese CDC reported that most of the children who were diagnosed with COVID-19 were either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms [3]. However, according to the CDC, some children do develop severe illness, and the largest study on children thus far has confirmed that males and infants may be at a higher risk for developing severe illness [4].

The study, conducted by the US CDC found that infants had a much higher rate of hospitalization than other age groups.

One theory to explain why young children don’t seem to be as affected by the virus is because they don’t tend to mount the same aggressive immune response that adults have. This response, known as a “cytokine storm”, is an intense immune response that inadvertently attacks the lungs, making breathing difficult. It is possible that children’s immune systems lack the ability to mount such a powerful immune response, which could actually be protecting them. It appears that there is a point of diminishing returns with this, and infants may be at a higher risk because their immune systems are too weak.

“We do know that children’s immune responses evolve over time,” says Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and chair of the committee on infectious diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics. “The first year of life, children don’t have the same robust immune response that older children and adults do.” [5]

The CDC study also found that 57 percent of the children involved were male. Male adults have also shown higher rates of infection than women, however, until now it was thought that this was because men typically have a higher rate of smoking and tend to have poorer hygiene. 

Because male children have a higher rate of infection, however, this suggests that there may be some biologic factors that cause males to be more susceptible to severe illness [3,6].

This research is still preliminary, however, the authors are recommending that doctors are very careful when they have a child patient with COVID-19, especially infants and children with preexisting health conditions [6].

Advice for Parents

If you are the parents of children under the age of eighteen, pay close attention to them, since their symptoms may present differently than what adults are experiencing.

As you would do normally during cold and flu season, encourage your children to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently. To help ensure they wash their hands for the appropriate length of time (at least twenty seconds), have them sing songs like the ABC’s while they scrub [7].

Do your best to disinfect high-touch surfaces and commonly used items in your home regularly, including your child’s toys. Keep your kids home as much as possible, and if you do take them out for a walk or bike ride, make sure they are maintaining the proper social distance (six feet or two meters) [7].

If you think your child may be experiencing some anxiety surrounding the virus, be open and honest with them. Since you know your child best, think about what they will and won’t understand, and do your best to keep the conversation within those parameters.

Allow your child to talk freely and give them the opportunity to tell you how they are feeling. Let them know that you are there to support them, and don’t be afraid to tell them when you don’t know the answer. It is important, however, that we explain to them that COVID-19 has nothing to do with the way someone looks, where they are from, or what language they speak.

Because children may have an even lower ability to understand what is going on around them, they may be even more scared or anxious. Do your best to listen, and to help them find fun things to do to take their minds off of the virus [8].

This pandemic is scary for all of us, and it is just as important for us to take care of our mental health during this time, as well as our physical health. This is equally as important for our children, who may be more vulnerable to fear and misunderstanding.

Keep Reading: Health Authorities Issue Alert About a Rare Coronavirus-Related Condition in Children

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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