About COVID-19 and children
COVID-19 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 Omicron 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 last 2-7 days. Recovery from symptoms like fatigue and cough might take several weeks, depending on how severe the illness has been.
When children have symptoms: getting a COVID-19 test
Check your state or territory health department website for more information about what test your child should get and where to get it.
How to manage COVID-19 symptoms at home
There’s currently no specific treatment for COVID-19 that can make it go away more quickly.
If your child has COVID-19 symptoms that are making them feel uncomfortable, you can manage these symptoms at home. Here are some things you can do:
- Give your child paracetamol or ibuprofen according to the instructions on the packet. This can help if your child is in pain or has a fever.
- Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids so that they don’t get dehydrated. Warm drinks can ease a sore throat and dry mouth.
- Don’t force your child to eat. Your child might not be hungry, but their appetite will improve as they start to feel better
- Encourage your child to take things easy, but there’s no need for them to stay in bed. Let your child decide how active they want to be.
- If you have a young baby with a stuffy nose, you can try using saline nasal spray.
You should avoid the following:
- Cough medicines – your child is coughing because their windpipe is irritated or has a lot of mucus. Cough medicines won’t help with either of these issues.
- Decongestants like Benadryl, Bisolvon, Demazin, Dimetapp, Duro-tuss, Logicin, Robitussin and Sudafed – these don’t help with COVID-19. They also have side effects like rapid heart rate, jitteriness and insomnia.
- Aspirin – aspirin can make your child susceptible to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal illness.
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. For example, phone your GP if your child:
- won’t drink fluids or can’t keep fluids down
- vomits frequently
- is unusually tired, confused or sleepy
- has trouble breathing
- has severe or constant headaches or chest pain.
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 an ambulance on 000. 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.
If your child has a lot of difficulty breathing, their skin is pale or blue, or they’re 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.
Protecting others when your child has COVID-19
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 7-14 days, depending on your state or territory government requirements. It might also include measures like wearing masks, improving airflow by keeping doors and windows open or using fans, and having good personal and home hygiene. Your health service will 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.
COVID-19 vaccination to protect against COVID-19
The best way to reduce your child’s risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 is to get your child vaccinated:
- The vaccination recommendation for children aged 5-11 years with healthy immune systems is 2 smaller doses of Pfizer or Moderna (5-year-olds can have Pfizer only).
- The vaccination recommendation for children aged 12 years and older with healthy immune systems is 2 doses of Pfizer or Moderna. Booster doses might also be recommended.
If your child has a medical or other condition or a weak immune system because of a medical condition or medicine, it’s best to speak with your GP or vaccination provider. They can talk with you about your child’s vaccination needs.
Personal hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Good personal hygiene can help to protect your child and family 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.
- Wash their hands with soap or use hand sanitiser.
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 or sanitise 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.
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
- avoiding close contact with anyone with the virus
- having gatherings outdoors where possible
- keeping doors and windows open or using fans to improve airflow if you have visitors in your home.
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 and/or your child 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.
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. And if children are required to wear face masks, you can teach your child how to do this correctly.
Talking with children about COVID-19
Your child might be seeing and hearing a lot about COVID-19. Talking with your child 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 isolation, quarantine and lockdown
- COVID-19: talking with teenagers about isolation, quarantine and lockdown
- COVID-19, isolation or 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