MIAMI — A South Florida pediatrician is helping parents stay informed about the effects of the coronavirus on children.
"I always tell parents, listen to your sixth sense," said Dr. Marcos Mestre with Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami.
Mestre said that most children infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and do "incredibly well" and don't need to admitted to the hospital. But, he added that children with underlying health conditions like a compromised immune system, obesity, or asthma may be at greater risk of having complications.
"Their hospitalization, if they need to be hospitalized, might be a little bit longer," Mestre said.
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Mestre said children transmit the virus the same way adults do, which is through droplets when they sneeze, or if those droplets get onto a surface and children touch that surface and then touch their face.
"Especially in younger kids, we know they don't like to wash their hands and they may be to close to each other. And so, in a similar fashion, those droplets may be transmitted from one child to another," Mestre said.
What's still unclear, however, is how effectively the virus is transmitted between family members.
"We think it's more the adults passing it, or the adults/adolescents passing it onto the younger children instead of the other way around," Mestre said. "We just assume, once we get a positive in the household, that everybody's positive. And those are the quarantine rules that we tell families. Once somebody in the house is positive, everybody in the house is quarantined."
With the 2020-21 school year just weeks away and many parents faced with the choice of sending their children back to class, Mestre said it can be done safely as long as students wear face coverings, wash their hands frequently, and practice social distancing whenever possible.
"If there's the ability within the school to do appropriate social distancing, that the child is capable of keeping a mask on. And making sure the staff is ready and has a plan if there happens to be a positive case, what would that plan be?" Mestre said. "So I think parents should be asking a lot of questions at this point."
Mestre admitted that children with compromised immune systems would be better off doing distance learning at home, at least to start.
The doctor added that nothing can replace the social benefit that students experience while going to school.
"We all know the importance of social interactions, and for the children we do see increase in some psychiatric illnesses, anxiety, depression, because they're isolated and they can't interact with others. So it's a fine balance," Mestre said.
The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health show that roughly one in three children under the age of 18 who have been tested for COVID-19 have tested positive.
Mestre said he's seen a similar positivity rate in children at Nicklaus Children's Hospital.
Many parents have expressed concerns about multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a side effect of the coronavirus that can appear three to four weeks after a child has contracted the virus.
Mestre stressed that MIS-C, whose symptoms include rash, fever, abdominal pain, redness of eyes, and swelling of hands and feet, is rare.
"Even though that's gotten a lot of press, I'd like to ensure parents that even if you have a COVID infection, the chances of a child getting [MIS-C] is also very rare," Metsre said. "The chances of it happening are incredibly rare"
Mestre's advice for parents is that while the symptoms of COVID-19 in children are typically mild, always follow your instinct if you think something is wrong.
"Most of the times they're not going to require any medical attention, but if noticing that there is that difficulty breathing, that they're not eating or drinking and getting dehydrated, at that point I'd recommend obviously reaching out to your pediatrician and then seeking medical attention," Mestre said.