COVID-19 is an infectious disease that can make you sick with cold-like and flu-like symptoms.
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.
COVID-19 is new, so we’re still learning about it and how it affects people, including children. It seems to affect children much less severely than older people.
COVID-19 is caused by a type of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.
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.
Symptoms can vary from child to child. Some children might not get any symptoms at all, and other children might get mild symptoms.
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.
What to do if children have symptoms of COVID-19
If your child has the symptoms above and you’re concerned, here’s what to do:
- Phone the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 or Healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
- Describe your child’s symptoms, plus anything else that makes you think your child might have COVID-19 – for example, overseas travel or possible contact with an infected person.
- Follow the advice you’re given. This includes advice about staying at home, or taking precautions if you’re told to visit your GP, a local hospital or a screening clinic.
If you’re told to visit your GP, make sure to phone ahead and tell the GP clinic about your coronavirus concerns. Some GPs might be able set up a consultation by phone or video.
If you’re told to visit a hospital or screening clinic (which might be located at a hospital), check your state or territory health department website for locations. Also check whether testing is offered to children at these locations.
You know your child best, so trust your instincts if your child doesn’t seem well. 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. In addition, see your GP or go to a hospital emergency department straight away if your child has a fever for longer than three days and/or swollen neck glands, swollen hands or feet, red eyes or tongue, a skin rash or cracked lips.
Tests for COVID-19
A doctor or nurse will do a throat and nose swab to test whether your child has COVID-19.
If your child is old enough to understand, it’s a good idea to 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 reassure your child that it’s a very quick test.
Treatment and management of COVID-19
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 has uncomfortable symptoms, 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.
Your state or territory health service will be notified if your child has tested positive for COVID-19. Someone from the health service will contact you to tell you what you need to do to protect others from infection. They’ll say that your child needs to go into home quarantine for 10-14 days, depending on your state or territory.
Home quarantine means staying at home and not going near people outside your family. If your child has COVID-19, it’s very important for them to stay at home, unless they need urgent medical assistance.
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.
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, your child should:
- 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 after blowing.
When your child sneezes or coughs, your child should:
- 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 who’s sneezing or coughing, 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 clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily using a regular household detergent and water. This includes tables, benchtops, light switches, doorknobs and cupboard handles.
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 during coronavirus restrictions 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, starting with people at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 or complications from COVID-19. 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 six 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 to 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 article have ideas for talking with children about tough topics, including COVID-19:
- Distressing news events: supporting children 2-5 years
- Distressing news events: supporting children 6-11 years
- Distressing news events: supporting teenagers
- COVID-19: talking with children about physical distancing and self-isolation
- COVID-19: talking with teenagers about physical distancing and self-isolation
- COVID-19, physical distancing and children with disability, autism and other conditions