Coronavirus & children: Our paediatrician answers your questions

We know some of the basic steps to help keep our families safe from COVID-19: handwashing, sneezing or coughing into your elbow, social distancing, no touching faces, and wearing a face mask, but there are other questions concerned parents are asking. We asked our expert paediatrician, Dr Enrico Maraschin, to help clear up some of the general confusion around children wearing face masks, vaccines, asthma risks and online consultations.

From what age can my child wear a mask?

It is not recommended that a child under the age of two years wears a mask. The mask will probably not be tolerated by a younger child and this will also encourage the child to touch their face excessively. A child of this age cannot understand the concept of using a mask. The mask itself can pose difficulties in breathing and might be a choking or suffocation hazard.

Is it important for everyone to wear gloves?

The World Health Organisation does not recommend the use of gloves as a means of protecting against COVID-19 illness. The wearing of gloves gives you a false sense of security and may make you less likely to keep up handwashing and using alcohol sanitisers. A person also needs to know how to take off the gloves properly if you have worn them and most people will get this wrong and defeat the purpose altogether. Washing hands remains the number-one hygiene regime.

Female medical professional putting on surgical glove

Is it true that coronavirus can live on a surface? If so, for how long?

Scientists are still doing research in order to answer this question fully. The length of time a virus can live on a surface is also dependent on the environment with factors such as heat and sunlight playing an important role. The virus prefers the cold. The virus generally prefers smooth, non-porous materials. Examples of these would be glass, jewellery, doorknobs and silverware, where it can live for up to five days.

The virus lives for a shorter time on other surfaces: on wood for four days, plastic and stainless steel three days, cardboard 24 hours and copper surfaces four hours. It is really important to remember that even if the virus is found on a particular surface, it may not necessarily cause illness. The virus starts to deteriorate the minute it hits the surface and is then less likely to cause you harm if you come into contact with it after some time.

Should I be taking my baby for their vaccines? What about my older children – can theirs wait?

Keeping your child’s vaccines up to date is really important. While COVID-19 is around at the moment, so are the other illnesses. It is crucial that you protect your child from the illnesses that are vaccine-preventable. Your child will be a lot sicker if dealing with an illness like chicken-pox or rotavirus and COVID-19. Please select a clinic where strict social distancing is adhered to. A healthy child should not be taken into an environment where there are a lot of other people for their vaccinations.

It’s flu season – must I still take my family for a flu vaccine?

I am personally in favour of the flu vaccine. I recommend it for all my patients from six months of age. At the moment, we need people to be as healthy as possible so if we can prevent certain strains of illness then it is a good idea to do so.

Doctor vaccinating little girl holding teddy bear

Will this vaccine make them vulnerable to coronavirus (i.e. if they have any of the usual symptoms after the vaccine)?

South Africa uses an inactivated form of the flu virus in the vaccine. If a person gets symptoms after the flu vaccine, it will just be their immune response to the vaccine rather than the vaccine making them sick. The flu vaccine contains three to four different types of flu viruses. These are completely different from COVID-19, so it will not make a person more susceptible to COVID-19.

“Keeping your child’s vaccines up to date is really important. While COVID-19 is around at the moment, so are the other illnesses”

Will I know/how can I know the difference between a cold, flu and coronavirus?

It will not be easy to differentiate between a cold, flu or coronavirus. We know that there are many patients who do not even know that they are positive for COVID-19. Others may have mild symptoms, severe symptoms and still others may be critically ill. The symptoms are all similar so you would have to determine with your doctor if a test is necessary, as this is the only way to be really sure if you are dealing with COVID-19 or not.

My child has asthma – is there anything more I can to help protect them?

A parent with an asthmatic child will be more concerned at this time and rightly so. My recommendation would be to follow the asthma maintenance programme that your child has been given very strictly so that their asthma remains well controlled. For any child, I would recommend a supplement of vitamins C and D and zinc as we head towards the peak of COVID-19. Once the risk has subsided, you must reassess if the vitamins are still necessary. A child with a good, mixed diet would not need to take the vitamins indefinitely.

Boy with ball inhaling from asthma pump

I’m too scared to take my child to a doctor’s office in case they are exposed. Do you offer online consultations?

I am very weary of online consultations. It is not easy for a parent to interpret a child’s symptoms especially when dealing with a young infant. I need to examine the patient and understand their history. In adults, it is very different. We can describe our symptoms. To protect my patients, I don’t allow more than one family in my rooms at a time. This way I can sterilise between each consultation.

Having the baby in front of me and physically examining the baby is vital. Most of my colleagues have not been at work at all. I have literally been the lone ranger at our office complex with 10 buildings all housing multiple doctors. I believe that seeing my patients, examining them and understanding the parents’ concerns is the best way to care for my patients.