In Houston, Texas, a 3-week old baby boy with COVID-19 was taken to hospital with breathing difficulties and difficulty feeding, as described in the New England Journal of Medicine. He had been born at 4 weeks before his due date and was brought in to the emergency room with rapid breathing. He was found to have a low blood pressure and a fast heart rate. He was later found to test positive for COVID-19, as well as rhinovirus and was treated in intensive care. He was allowed to go home after 9 days of treatment and breathing support in hospital.
COVID-19 is a viral infection and is responsible for the current pandemic. This virus belongs to a family of viruses, namely the coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are responsible for infections like the common cold as well as severe diseases that have caused critical outbreaks in the past: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
COVID-19 does not appear to be passed between a mother and an unborn baby via the placenta. In this case, the 3-week old boy in Texas was born prematurely and found to have a fever soon after birth. His mother had tested positive for a bacterium, group B streptococcus, during her pregnancy and he was given antibiotics soon after birth. The tests he underwent at that time were negative and so he was discharged home with his family. At home he may have had contact with a household member who had symptoms of COVID-19.
Although, as in this case, children can be severely affected by COVID-19, generally, children do not seem to be affected more severely than adults. They may in fact be more likely to have milder symptoms. They may develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing but can also be unwell with nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. The symptoms may not appear until up to around 14 days after being exposed to the virus. Young infants, such as this baby, may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 than older children and can also struggle to feed when their breathing is affected.
Young infants are vulnerable to many viral illnesses as they have not developed immunity to the common viruses around. This baby also tested positive for rhinovirus. Rhinovirus is one of the most common causes of infections that can affect the breathing and the airways of young infants and require hospital treatment. Parents and carers can help babies and children avoid becoming unwell with viral infections by following good hand hygiene practices and ensuring they receive their vaccinations on schedule.
This baby boy quickly received support for his breathing, medications and had treatment of a partial lung collapse. He was severely affected by COVID-19 and he was promptly treated and required no oxygen or breathing support 9 days later. Although, if infected, most children will be likely to have mild symptoms of COVID-19, parents should always seek advice if they are concerned about their child’s breathing, feeding or that they are becoming unwell.