For the most part, children haven’t been overly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic – not physically anyway, as far as catching the virus goes. (1)
In an article published in The Conversation, Nicholas Wood, Associate Professor, Discipline of Childhood and Adolescent Health, University of Sydney, writes: “Australian data from 1 January to 1 August this year  show 2.5 per cent of children aged up to nine and 2.9 per cent of children and teenagers aged 10-19 who contracted Covid were hospitalised. This is compared with 7.7 per cent of young adults aged 20-29, with rates continuing to increase with age.” (1)
While children previously have largely been spared the effects of Covid-19, with the Delta variant running rampant through some parts of the country, it appears that our littlies are becoming increasingly susceptible to the virus.
“Recent data show increased rates of hospitalisation among children in the US with Covid-19 compared with last year, alongside rising infections with the Delta variant,” Associate Professor Wood writes. (1)
He points out that while last year, children under 12 were not adding to the Covid-19 infection rate, this year things are different.
“We know they’re making up a large proportion of new infections in Australia’s current outbreaks”, writes Associate Professor Wood, pointing to an article in The Sydney Morning Herald published on 22 August 2021, which stated that “more than 200 NSW children aged nine and under were diagnosed with Covid-19” (2) that weekend.
An article by Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service (CHQHHS), Covid-19 and kids: What you need to know, says that while “the Delta variant is a clearly more transmissible virus than the original form of the virus … there is no evidence as yet to suggest it affects children any differently” (3) compared with the other strains. “The good news is the vast majority of children with the Delta variant continue to experience a mild infection.”
So, what should pharmacy assistants know about this variant and how can you best support worried parents who may come into your pharmacies for advice?
Australian parenting website raisingchildren.net.au (4) says the Delta variant of Covid-19 is “more infectious for everyone, including children” than other variants. The website lists the common Covid-19 symptoms, which include:
- Symptoms like those of a cold and flu, including runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, cough, aches and pains.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Loss of appetite.
- Loss or altered sense of smell or taste.
“If your child has the [listed] symptoms, take your child to get a Covid-19 test,” the website advises.
The website also recommends managing Covid-19 symptoms with “paracetamol, plenty of fluids and rest”. (4) It’s also important, it adds, to adhere to public health guidelines to minimise spread to others, including “a period of strictly staying at home by yourselves with no visitors for 10-14 days”. (4)
Additionally, the website says, it’s important for parents to contact their GP if their child’s symptoms worsen and to seek urgent medical attention (visiting their local emergency department) if their child becomes very unwell. (4)
What makes kids more vulnerable
According to community pharmacist and accredited herbalist Gerald Quigley, children are particularly vulnerable to picking up viruses during a growth spurt.
“The problem is, when a child grows, the demand on [their] immune system is enormous,” he said. “So, their ability to withstand upper respiratory tract infections and other things like warts, for instance, [is reduced during a growth spurt]. Their immune response lessens – it doesn’t become quite as effective as it usually is.”
Mr Quigley points to the example of teething and the “invariable runny, snotty nose” that comes with this stage of life and is “very common in kids when their teeth are developing”.
“They get a lot of nasal congestion, and the muck has got to go somewhere, and it pours out of their nose,” he said. “Sometimes it’s infective stuff, but usually they get better. And it often affects their ears as well.”
In terms of susceptibility to illness, Mr Quigley suggests this is like adults, in that, kids who have “co-morbidities” are likely to be more prone to getting sick. “If you’ve got a child who’s struggling to develop, or a child who perhaps is trying to cope with asthma, or other things … any co-morbidity … they’re [going to be] much more at risk [compared] to a person who is not subject to the struggle of coping with chronic and ongoing disease,” he said.
CHQHHS says that “most children who have experienced severe cases of Covid-19 to date have had underlying chronic conditions, with chronic pulmonary disease, obesity, neurological and developmental conditions, and cardiovascular conditions the most frequently reported internationally”. (3)
Building strong immune defences
To help keep immune systems working as they should, Mr Quigley points to the importance of ensuring “adequate vitamin D levels”.
“It’s hard to measure [vitamin D levels], because you’ve got to have a blood test to do it,” he said, “but my advice to parents is to make sure kids are getting plenty of dairy, plenty of eggs, plenty of sunshine. And even then, it’s worth supplementing with children’s-strength vitamin D as well.”
In addition to vitamin D, Mr Quigley says other vitamins and minerals important in the function of the immune system are vitamin C and zinc.
“We know that vitamin C and D, and zinc are the immune-important vitamins and minerals,” he said. “There’s a lot of others as well, but they’re the main three.”
Mr Quigley adds that chatting with parents about their children’s general diet is something pharmacy assistants can do, to gain an idea as to whether a supplement or referral to a specialist, such as an Accredited Practising Dietitian who specialises in children, may be warranted.
He says chatting about those elementary three nutrients – vitamin D from foods such as dairy and eggs, vitamin C from fruit and vegetables, and zinc from whole grains and milk products, nuts, meat and poultry – is important to establish whether a child is “getting that balance”.
Preventing the spread
Mr Quigley says that basic hygiene measures can help with minimising exposure to viruses and bacteria – “washing your hands before eating … using a hand steriliser as well. And that’s the elementary precaution”.
CHQHHS says that “the single most effective way to prevent infection in children is to reduce infections in adults”, with vaccinations being the most effective way to achieve this. Its website states that “young children who cannot receive a vaccine are protected by the vaccination of adults around them”. (3) The site goes on to list other basic measures to stay protected: (3)
- Physical distancing.
- Good hand and respiratory hygiene.
However, while it’s important to take precautions, ensure a healthy, balanced diet and supplement where required, Mr Quigley says it’s important to remember that “none of these things are going to prevent infection” – they may minimise the risk, but they won’t take it away completely. He says viruses and bacteria will be here forever, and we should do what we can to stay as healthy as we can.
To read the full feature as it appears in the October issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants e-magazine, visit: rpassistants.com.au/magazines/retail-pharmacy-assistants-october-2021/
- Wood N. ‘Under-12s are increasingly catching Covid-19. How sick are they getting and when will we be able to vaccinate them?’ The Conversation, 2021. Available at: com/under-12s-are-increasingly-catching-covid-19-how-sick-are-they-getting-and-when-will-we-be-able-to-vaccinate-them-165948
- Smith A. ‘More than 200 young kids diagnosed with Covid-19 in one weekend’. The Sydney Morning Herald, 2021. Available at: com.au/politics/nsw/as-more-than-200-primary-kids-get-a-covid-diagnosis-in-one-weekend-hazzard-says-it-s-too-early-to-talk-about-school-20210822-p58kwt.html
- Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service. ‘Covid-19 and Kids: What you need to know’. Available at: health.qld.gov.au/blog-covid-19-and-kids-what-you-need-to-know/
- ‘Covid-19 and children in Australia’. Available at: raisingchildren.net.au/school-age/health-daily-care/health-concerns/coronavirus-and-children-in-australia