Ever since the SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as the Coronavirus escaped the Wuhan city of China and spread into other countries gradually, life changed for billions of people in unprecedented ways. The deadly virus for which vaccine trials are underway has killed lakhs of people globally and several millions are infected. The virus which attacks the respiratory system in human body is especially harmful for the elderly lot though others are also at risk. Even newborn babies and infants are not in safe zone. Interestingly enough, the impact of Covid 19 on the affected persons can vary a lot, based on factors like their age group, gender and immune system. While the newborn babies and kids show fewer complications, it is important to know the risk factors nevertheless.
What the studies are showing?
A report published by Chicago’s Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, shows the infants below 90 days testing positive for COVID-19 may not show much symptoms. Such babies may actually look normal and no serious respiratory complications are seen in them. The findings of the report published in the coveted Journal of Pediatrics indicate the primary symptom of coronavirus in such babies is fever.
As of now, the available data on infants infected by SARS-CoV-2 is limited. The babies afflicted with Covid 19 exhibit mild illness and they may not face risk of severe diseases. Leena B. Mithal, the lead author said this is as per the reports obtained from China. A majority of the infected infants included in the study had fever. So, it can be assumed that the cause behind the fever was COVID-19. However, such infants need to be checked for bacterial infections too.
The study was however carried out on 18 infants and none of them had significant medical history. Almost half of these infected infants did not face respiratory issues. They mostly did not require any intensive care. The reason for admission of these infants was mostly clinical observation and observation of feeding tolerance. A section of these infants had gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. The GI symptoms were preceded by respiratory tract symptoms. Despite the mild clinical illness, the infants had high viral loads as exhibited in their nasal specimens.
Dr. Mithal said it can’t be said with confirmation if the young infants with fever testing positive for Covid 19 need hospitalization or not. The decision to get a person admitted is taken based on factors like feeding tolerance, clinical assessment, age and follow-up adequacy etc. There may be need of expedited SARS-CoV-2 testing to decide if infants with fever should be hospitalized or not.
Dr. Mithal and her colleagues observed a majority of infants with COVID-19 had Latin origin. She said the team actually anticipated an influx of cases with Latin roots. There can be a multitude of factors behind this, she said.
A lack of clear consensus
The fact that it is a new virus borne disorder and the virus itself keeps mutating has led to a lack of clear consensus in the medical community regarding its impact on the infants. An Italian study led by Guiseppe De Bernado from the Ospedale Buon Consiglio Fatebenefratelli, Naples contradicts the findings of the former observations.
When COVID-19 started spreading in various countries, the health experts warned about the enhanced risk faced by the infants. They warned about infected newborns developing complications like congenital disabilities and low birth weight. Several cases of suspected transmission from the mother or caregiver to the infant were reported. Yet, detailed clinical reports on impact of the virus on such babies are hardly available. This study was carried out to evaluate the evidence and available literature on the impact of Covid 19 among newborns. It was conducted on infants who were less than 28 days old. The infants had mixed ethnicity.
The study found there was no solid evidence showing that the infants acquired the infection while within the womb. The infants exhibited multiple symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some of them showed no symptoms at all. A section of them did require intensive care. The complications noted were respiratory distress, pneumonia and sepsis.
The study concluded COVID-19 in the infants typically does not lead to life-threatening complications. The treatment needs to be symptomatic and supportive. After release from hospital, standard hygiene measures should be taken, they said. However, the study authors added further studies involving a lot more infants should be carried out for confirmation.
What the new parents need to know?
It is a fact that children of any age can contract COVID-19. It is also true that a lot of the infants get infected but do not fall sick as adults and some remain symptomatic throughout. Worldwide, a minuscule percentage of kids infected with the virus have succumbed to it. The same thing can be said about hospitalization rate of infected infants and kids. Despite these, the parents need to be careful about the infants as the risk of complications can’t be ruled out completely.
- Why the infants and kids react differently to Coronavirus?
This is something the medical community is trying to fathom. It may be because the kids develop antibodies after catching cold often. These antibodies may offer them some defense against Covid 19. It may be possible that in the kids’ immune systems interact in a different way than the adults. A section of the adults become ill as their immune system reacts harshly to the virus.
- Are the infants at risk
While a section of infected infants show only mild symptoms that may not be taken as reassuring. The reality is those babies have immature immune systems and their respiratory system is far from developed. The risk of infants born with congenital defects is higher than the others.
- What the new parents can do to safeguard the infant from covid 19?
The parents of a newborn can adopt some preventive steps to ensure the baby does not contract the virus from the other sources. Special care should be taken for those babies born out of a mother suspected of having been infected. Temporarily, separating the newborn and the mother can reduce risk of infection. The infant needs to be monitored for infection signs. The problem is there is not enough facility to check every infant in such situations.
In a number of cases, the infants contract the infection from sick and asymptomatic caregivers. So, the caregivers should be made to follow necessary precautions. If a mother tests positive after childbirth, she should be kept in isolation. Even after isolation is over, she needs to follow precautions when touching the infant.
- Preventive measures to make the home safe for the infant
The parents of a newborn can adopt a few steps to make sure the home is safe for the baby. These include:
- They should always touch the infant after cleansing hands with medicated soaps or hand wash.
- They should not allow anyone returning from abroad or from a household where anyone tested positive for Covid 19 to the home.
- They should minimize trips to market, shopping zones, and evade going out as far as possible.
- They should keep the rooms and home clean by using disinfectants regularly.
- They should wash their clothing and that of the baby using disinfecting fluids too.