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COVID-19 and Kids: Your Pediatrician is the First Line of Defense

With the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreading, Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt offers key steps for parents.

If you don't think that children can get sick with the Delta variant, think again. 
    Over the last two days, according to the Tennessee Department of Health, the number of school-aged children who have tested positive for COVID-19 has grown to more than 11,276. That's a 950% increase since mid-July. Pediatricians at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt can provide ways for you to keep your kids safe by first looking to your pediatrician for guidance. Do that before going to an emergency room for testing.
   “It is always best to call your pediatrician for direction,” says Joseph Gigante, M.D., professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital. “Many people immediately want to bring their child to the emergency room, but that is not always the best plan. A pediatrician should be the first point of reference because they know the child and can better advise parents on next steps,” he adds.
    But plenty of parents are confused by COVID-19 and the report of surging Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) in kids.
    "We are also seeing repiratory illnesses this summer that we've never seen in the summertime before or never seen on that scale," Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, M.D. said at a press conference last week. Characterized by wheezing and respiratory distress, RSV usually infects kids under age 2. Referring to RSV versus COVID-19, it's not easy to distinguish between the two in children.
    Because of overlapping symptoms, there's really no way to
 decipher COVID symptoms from an upper respiratory illness. Gigante says if you suspect that your child may have RSV or may even have been exposed to COVID, try not to hit the panic button. He offers the following child symptom guidelines about when to go to an emergency room: 

  • If your child is having breathing difficulty or is in respiratory distress
  • Severe headache or muscle aches
  • A high fever causing a change in behavior

If there's any good news, it's that most children who test positive are asymptomatic.
    “Over the last week or so, we are definitely testing more children and getting more positives with the majority of cases being asymptomatic, requiring an at-home quarantine, not hospitalization,” Gigante says.
    But pediatricians are also reporting different symptoms in children, including gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Gigante says the loss of taste and smell also seem to be specific to COVID and should be a sign for parents to seek out a visit to the pediatrician. Symptoms of COVID may include new cough, difficulty breathing, fever (greater than 100.4), chills, congestion/runny nose, sore throat, headache, muscle pain and fatigue.

 To keep your family safe, follow public safety health measures in order to reduce the risk of infection and transmission of the disease, particularly for children not yet eligible for vaccination. Wash hands often, practice social distancing and mask up.
    “Children younger than 12 years old are not able to receive the vaccination,” Gigante says. “We all need to create a protective shield around them. If you are not vaccinated, get your shot. Although not the most popular, have your child wear a mask to school and keep them home if they are sick.”

While your  pediatrician should be your first point of contact, Children’s Hospital has several after-hours clinics that can assess your sick child, with locations in Hendersonville, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro, Brentwood, Smyrna and Spring Hill.



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