Although children have clearly demonstrated just how responsible and disciplined they can be - on occasion even more so than the adults around them - they are not capable of assimilating the magnitude of the risks created by the presence of COVID-19 in our country.
This, of course, means that their safety, and specifically their health, depend fundamentally on the level of care they receive from adults, and the precautions these adults take to avoid exposing their children to the risk of possible infection.
In Cuba, as of September 6, a total of 467 patients of pediatric age had tested positive for the SARS-COV-2 virus, 83.3% of whom have recovered satisfactorily.
This does not imply, however, that no child with the disease reaches serious condition, as confirmed by statistics gathered worldwide related to aggravation of the disease and deaths among children with COVID-19.
While this is not the most common scenario for the youngest patients who generally experience mild symptoms, or none at all, a real danger exists, making prevention the best vaccine against the disease.
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT COVID-19 IN CHILDREN?
While across the planet important studies have been conducted to determine exactly the reactions of children to the disease, their capacity to infect others, and why they experience milder symptoms than adults, experts at the World Health Organization insist that much remains to be investigated to reach conclusive findings.
Despite this reality, important contributions have been made to understanding the impact of the disease in this vulnerable segment of the population, which have shed light on the symptoms, the viral load, and long term physical effects, as well as psychological, among children.
Since April this year, for example, doctors in Britain have identified an increase among pediatric COVID patients of multi-systematic inflammatory syndrome. Something similar was noted in New York, and reports from other nations have emerged.
In a statement to National Geographic, Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, explained that more long-term studies are needed of children who have recovered from COVID-19, to precisely identify possible long term effects of the disease.
The fact is that, since the development of complications is much more frequent in other age groups, fewer studies of pediatric patients are conducted.
On the other hand, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps have been identified as the symptoms that most commonly indicate an infection in children, as opposed to those usually first exhibited by adults, according to researchers at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The study demonstrated that, at this early age, the presence of the disease is not always obvious, and can be confused with other common ailments, making immediate medical attention key to an accurate diagnosis and timely treatment.
As the pandemic has continued over these months, with the world immersed in the battle against this new coronavirus, questions have emerged as to whether children can infect adults or not, an issue that, according to experts, has not been adequately studied. One study was however recently published in the JAMA Pediatrics journal, showing that the viral load carried by children over five years of age is similar to that of adults. But below this age, the presence of the virus in the upper respiratory tract can be ten to one hundred times greater than that seen in older children and adults – thus potentially making these young children and infants powerful propagators of the illness.
And COVID-19 does leave effects after recovery. This issue has been studied and reliable findings are available. In the case of children, ongoing difficulty in breathing, chest pain, and diarrhea have been identified.
Other effects of a psychological nature must also be considered. The abrupt changes in daily routines, the isolation, and the closing of schools, leaving children without their principal opportunity for socialization, have been cited as the effects of greatest impact.
ARE CHILDREN LESS SUSCEPTIBLE TOSARS-COV-2?
The recent increase in the number of children and adolescents infected by the new coronavirus shows that they are as susceptible to the disease as adults, and this is an issue that the World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized.
The international body, cited by teleSur, noted that testing to date suggests that children and young adults are less likely to develop a serious case of the illness, but such cases do emerge in all age groups, and the same protocols of quarantine and isolation must be followed if a child exhibits symptoms or the possibility of exposure exists.
The growing number of adolescents and young people being infected, a trend noted in outbreaks around the world following the relaxing of restrictions, is alarming. The multinational broadcaster reports that, according to WHO data, between February 24 and July 12, the number of patients 15 to 24 years of age increased from 4.5% of the total to 15%.
The vulnerability of the pediatric age group is understood in its full dimension when other aggravating factors are considered, such as poverty, the lack of hygienic conditions, limited access to health care, and the suspension of regular immunization programs during the pandemic.
THE NEWS NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR
“COVID-19 can be fatal for children: The figures are low until it happens to your child.” This was the headline of an article in the Washington Post reporting the death of Skylar Herbert, a five-year-old who became the first little girl to die in Michigan, as a consequence of COVID-19.
More stories from other regions, just as sad, can be read, and who knows how many others will never be told. But they provide the clear evidence that children, adolescents and young adults are not invulnerable, their lives can also be cut short by the pandemic.
In normal times, children are a high priority for Cuba’s public health system. Now, in times of pandemic, efforts are redoubled to avoid infection in this age group and guarantee the recovery of those who do get sick. This joint work has prevented such terrible losses on our island.
Nonetheless, we must ask ourselves, if the basic cell of our society, the family, is making the same effort to provide the care our treasured children need, with the same insistence that the state has shown.
This subject deserves reflection, since saving a life depends not only on the professionalism, willpower, and vigilance of our health workers. At times, all this is not enough, since, in medicine, two plus two is not always four.
Let us reject the myths that cloud our thinking, and the figures that produce over-confidence. Can children suffer a serious case of COVID-19? Yes. Can children die from COVID-19? Yes. Can our responsibility, discipline, and heightened awareness prevent an infection? Yes. This, too, is possible.
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