As the number of COVID-19 cases rises worldwide, parents trying to protect their children from the disease can take solace in one thing: the disease has generally been milder in children. However, there are many unknowns about coronavirus, and research is ongoing. Here is what we know now.

Can children catch coronavirus?

Yes. They can be infected with and appear to be able to transmit coronavirus, even if they do not have symptoms. That is why it is important for children to practice social distancing and hand-washing, even if they do not appear ill.

How does coronavirus affect children?

It is generally believed to cause milder symptoms in children, but the specific impacts by age are becoming clearer as the outbreak goes on. Much of what we know today is based on reports out of China, where the outbreak began. There 2.4% of all identified cases were in children under 19 years old. An even smaller number within this group of children had severe symptoms, 2.5%, or what the World Health Organization (WHO) described as “a very small proportion”. But more research is being done and a clearer picture is still emerging.

Why does coronavirus affect children differently?

That remains unknown. Dr Jay C Butler, deputy director of infectious disease at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “The phenomenon is very significant,” on a live-streamed show hosted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, but that the mechanisms are “really unknown.” People aged 60 and older or with existing health conditions remain the most vulnerable to the coronavirus. That includes people with conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and chronic respiratory conditions, according to the WHO.

My child has a health condition. Should I be concerned?

Respiratory conditions such as asthma often result in more severe cases of viral diseases such as influenza. But the coronavirus is new, and it remains unknown whether it will more severely affect children with asthma. Similarly, there is not yet evidence about whether coronavirus could more negatively affect children with diabetes, which is a risk factor for adults. That said, experts at Johns Hopkins University are warning parents to be vigilant.

Should I keep my kids home from school?

In many countries that decision has been taken out of the hands of parents, with school and educational establishments being closed by governments and local authorities in order to try and halt the spread of the virus. If your kids are at home, they will still need regular exercise – and will need to be practicing social distancing when they are outside.

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