About COVID-19 and children
COVID-19 is an infectious disease that can make people sick with cold-like and flu-like symptoms.
Most children who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Children with some underlying medical conditions might be at slightly higher risk of getting quite sick. But very few children with COVID-19 get sick enough to need hospitalisation. And it’s very rare for children to die.
COVID-19 spreads easily through sneezing, coughing, breathing, talking and hand contact. The virus can also live on objects that have been in contact with an infected person’s mouth, nose, hands or body fluids. This means the virus can spread if you touch an infected object.
There are different types, or variants, of COVID-19. Some types are more infectious for everyone, including children. This means the virus spreads more easily from one person to another. The Delta variant is an example of a more infectious type of COVID-19.
Australian, state and territory health department websites have the latest and most reliable information and advice about COVID-19. You can also call the Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222. Or download the Australian Government’s Coronavirus Australia app.
Symptoms of COVID-19
Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- symptoms like those of a cold or flu, including runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, aches and pains
- difficulty breathing
- loss of appetite
- loss or altered sense of smell or taste.
Symptoms might come on very quickly and might last 2-7 days. Recovery from symptoms like fatigue and cough might take several weeks depending on how severe the illness has been.
The incubation period for COVID-19 can be 1-14 days. This means the virus can infect people up to 14 days before symptoms start to appear.
Getting a COVID-19 test when children have symptoms
If your child has the symptoms above, take your child to get a COVID-19 test.
Check your state or territory health department website for testing locations. It’s a good idea to take a drink, some snacks and something to keep your child busy in case there’s a long wait time.
A COVID-19 test involves a throat and nose swab. It’s a very quick test. Although it might feel strange or uncomfortable, this feeling doesn’t last long.
If your child is old enough to understand, you can prepare them by describing the test. For example, you could say that the doctor or nurse will put one little stick up your child’s nose and one little stick up towards the back of their mouth. You could also show your child a video about getting a COVID-19 test.
After the test, you must go straight home, stay at home until you get the test result, and follow the directions of your state or territory health service.
Managing COVID-19 symptoms and protecting others
There’s currently no specific treatment for COVID-19 that can make it go away more quickly.
If your child is diagnosed with COVID-19 and is uncomfortable, your doctor or another health professional will let you know how to manage the symptoms. This might include:
- paracetamol – for example, Panadol and Dymadon
- plenty of fluids and rest.
Also, your state or territory health service will tell you how to protect others from infection. This will include a period of strictly staying at home by yourselves with no visitors for 10-14 days. They’ll also tell you what other household members need to do.
It’s natural to worry about what COVID-19 might mean for your family. If you’re worried and need support, you could talk to your GP or a local counsellor. You can also call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
What to do if COVID-19 symptoms get worse
If your child’s symptoms get worse while you’re waiting for a test result or after a positive diagnosis, phone your GP. Make sure to tell the GP clinic about your child’s COVID-19 symptoms, test or diagnosis. The clinic will tell you what to do next.
If your child is very unwell and needs urgent medical attention, call either 000 or your local emergency department. Tell them about your child’s symptoms, test or diagnosis, and then follow their directions.
You can also contact the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for more advice about your child’s symptoms.
If your child has difficulty breathing, your child’s skin is pale or blue, or your child is drowsy or unresponsive, call 000 for an ambulance and let them know about your child’s COVID-19 test or diagnosis. Also seek medical attention straight away if your child has a fever for more than 3 days and/or swollen neck glands, swollen hands or feet, red eyes or tongue, stomach pain, a skin rash or cracked lips.
Personal hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Good personal hygiene can help to protect your child from COVID-19 and prevent its spread.
Hand-washing is a key part of good personal hygiene. It’s one of the simplest and best ways of preventing the spread of illness, including the spread of COVID-19.
When your child blows their nose, here’s what your child should do:
- Use disposable tissues.
- Put used tissues in a bin straight away.
- Carry a disposable bag for used tissues in case there are no bins nearby.
- Wash their hands with soap or use hand sanitiser after blowing.
When your child sneezes or coughs, here’s what your child should do:
- Avoid sneezing or coughing into their hands.
- Use disposable tissues, or cover their mouth with a sleeve or elbow.
- Wash their hands after sneezing or coughing.
You can also encourage your child to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. This is how the virus gets into the body.
And you can reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 by staying at least 1.5-2 m away from anyone outside of your household where possible, and avoiding close contact with anyone with the virus.
It’s important to be a hand-washing and personal hygiene role model. Your child is more likely to have good hygiene if you lead by example.
Home hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19
To get rid of any germs that might have been brought into your house, you can use household detergent and water to clean frequently touched surfaces within your house. This includes surfaces like benchtops and doorknobs.
Also remind your child to wash their hands when they get home.
Face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19
If there’s community spread of COVID-19 in your local area, you might be asked or required to wear a face mask, shield or covering. Check your state and territory health department website for advice on wearing face masks.
The way children feel about face masks can depend on age. Playing and talking can help younger children cope with face masks. Role-modelling, negotiating and talking can help older children and teenagers cope with face masks.
Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is happening in phases, based on priority according to age, increased risk of COVID-19 exposure, and medical conditions. Use the Australian Government Department of Health vaccine eligibility checker to find out whether your child is eligible to be vaccinated.
Vaccines are medicines that build your body’s immune system. They help to protect you and your family from infectious diseases. The vaccine development process is very thorough. The COVID-19 vaccine development process is happening faster than usual because extra resources have been invested in it.
Flu immunisation and COVID-19
It’s recommended that all children over the age of 6 months be immunised against influenza. Flu immunisation can help health professionals rule out the flu when assessing your child’s symptoms. This is because COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms.
Talking with children about COVID-19
Your child might be seeing and hearing a lot about COVID-19 on TV, radio and social media, as well as from other people. Talking with your child about COVID-19 can help your child understand what’s going on.
These articles have ideas for talking with children about tough topics, including COVID-19:
- COVID-19: talking with children about lockdown
- COVID-19: talking with teenagers about lockdown
- COVID-19, lockdown and children with disability, autism and other conditions
- Distressing news events: supporting children 2-5 years
- Distressing news events: supporting children 6-11 years
- Distressing news events: supporting teenagers