If you have a baby or other young children at home, you might be concerned about the latest rapid increase in COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not announce the first U.S. case of the Omicron variant until December 1, 2021, it has now established itself as the dominant strain in the country, already accounting for around 95% of the total COVID-. 19 cases as of January 1, 2022.
“It’s the most infectious virus we’ve seen since measles, with rates doubling every 48 to 72 hours,” said Rajeev Fernando, MD, consultant in infectious diseases at Federal Emergency Management field hospitals. Nationwide Agency (FEMA) and member of What to Expect a Medical Review Panel.
Although Omicron infections are usually milder in children and babies, there is no doubt that this strain will affect them as well, he adds. As of December, nearly 7.9 million children had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), with about 325,000 of those cases added in a single week.
“Although the rate of complications in children is relatively low, we still expect a substantial increase in hospitalizations given the sheer number of babies and children who will benefit,” said Robert McGregor, MD, medical director of Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron. , Ohio.
Since the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet cleared for use in children under the age of 5, it’s understandable to be concerned about how the virus – and in particular the Omicron variant – might affect your. toddlers. Here is what we currently know.
What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant in children?
The CDC says symptoms of COVID-19 can include:
- Shortness of breath
- New loss of taste or smell
- Muscle or body pain
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
In general, you can expect the symptoms of the Omicron variant to be very similar to those of the Delta variant, says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
An ongoing UK COVID symptom study has found no clear difference between the early symptoms associated with the Delta and Omicron variants. However, people who tested positive for COVID-19 in an area with a higher prevalence of the Omicron strain reported these five symptoms most often:
- Runny nose
- Fatigue (mild or severe)
- Sore throat
Since these symptoms mimic those of the common cold, if your children have them, you should get them tested for COVID-19 and isolate them until you get results, advises Dr. McGregor.
Does the Omicron variant cause more serious illness in children?
Data on the Omicron variant is still emerging. Reports from South Africa, where the strain was first identified, suggest hospitalization rates for children infected with Omicron are higher than in previous waves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that little ones everywhere are more vulnerable to the Omicron strain than they have been to other variants.
“Children there may have had lower rates of prior coronavirus infection and vaccination than adults, so they have less pre-existing immunity,” says Dr. McGregor.
Other early data indicates that Omicron may affect people differently from previous strains and have a less severe impact on the lungs, but there is still a lot to learn.
Experts know that the Omicron variant is very contagious. Preliminary research has suggested that Omicron is more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and the Delta variant.
“The more contagious a virus, the more likely it is to spread,” explains Dr. Fernando. “If more children are infected with the Omicron variant, then more children will develop serious disease.”
Additionally, given that a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine was only approved for U.S. children ages 5 to 11 in November, and some parents were waiting to get their children vaccinated, about 23% of children in that group had received at least one dose by Dec. 29, according to the AAP Childhood Vaccination Trends report.
“We know that if you are not vaccinated, you are more vulnerable to infections and serious illnesses,” says Dr Schaffner.
How to protect your children from the Omicron variant?
There are a few steps you can take to protect your family from COVID-19, including the Omicron variant:
Get vaccinated and get your children vaccinated if they are eligible
Children under 5 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, but you can help protect them by being fully immunized yourself, says Dr Schaffner. If your child is 5 years of age or older, get him vaccinated.
CDC data released in December reaffirmed that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine mainly caused mild, brief side effects (such as pain where the vaccine was given) in children aged 5 to 11. Millions of young children have now received their vaccines, and serious adverse events were rarely reported.
“We know parents don’t rush to do this, but they are one of the best protections we have against disease,” he adds. While it’s true that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine don’t always prevent infection, they appear to protect against serious illness, notes Dr. Schaffner.
Dr McGregor agrees: “Anecdotally, not all pediatric patients admitted to our hospital with complications from COVID-19 are vaccinated,” he says.
Adults and children over 2 years old should wear masks in public, especially in and around other people who are not in their household. The AAP also recommends that students and staff wear face masks in school and daycare, regardless of their immunization status.
If your children are tolerant of surgical masks – the best are the KF94, N95 and KN95 masks – then these offer better protection than simple cloth masks, says John Swartzberg, MD, clinical professor emeritus in the division of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California Berkeley.
If they don’t, go for fabric masks that have layers. “The best protection is a tissue-covered surgical mask, but this can be difficult for many children to wear for long periods of time,” notes Dr. Swartzberg.
Pay attention to interior fittings
Overcrowded indoor spaces and those that do not have good air circulation are particularly risky.
“Over the next four to six weeks, it’s a good idea to minimize indoor public places as much as possible,” advises Dr. Schaffner. “Watch a movie at home instead of going to the movies and spend time in an outdoor park instead of being in a children’s museum or playground.”
If you plan to spend time with someone outside of your home without a mask – such as at a reunion with grandparents – then a quick test of all guests on the day of the event is a must, explains the Dr Schaffner. Even if you do this and each test comes back negative, it is still a good idea to wear masks if everyone in the group is not fully vaccinated and open windows if possible. Better yet, have the party outside and stick to outdoor gatherings in general if you can.
Avoid non-essential trips
Given Omicron’s rapid spread, if you can postpone your travel plans now, do so, says Dr. Fernando. If you must travel with toddlers, take preventative measures such as wearing a mask (for ages 2 years and older) on public transport and indoors, and get tested before and after. trip.
Practice good hand hygiene
The whole family should make it a habit to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, after coughing or sneezing, and before and after doing business. of a sick person.
If soap and water are not available, adults can use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol; babies and toddlers should not use hand sanitizer.
Respect social distancing guidelines
Since some people without symptoms can spread the virus, stay at least 6 feet (about two arm’s lengths) from other people, especially if your children are too young to get the vaccine.