Recognizing COVID-19 Symptoms in Children Under the Age of 5

As we go into another year where the pandemic is ever present, people are still wondering about how to recognize COVID-19 symptoms, especially in babies, toddlers, and kids who are too young for the vaccine. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, as of Jan. 6, 2022, “Nearly 8.5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic; nearly 11% of these cases have been added in the past two weeks.” 

My son is too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine—currently only approved for children age 5 and above. And at nine months old, my son began exhibiting cold symptoms like a runny nose and dry cough and later received a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. By the time I contacted his pediatrician, he was lethargic and had a low appetite. Once I took my son to his pediatrician’s office and the COVID-19 diagnosis came back positive, I immediately began to feel as if it was my fault he was sick. While his father and I did our best to follow the CDC’s guidelines, it still happened to our family.


While his father and I do our best to follow the CDC’s guidelines, it still happened to our family.


No parent wants to see their little one sick, and COVID-19 has layered a blanket of anxiety on parents, especially those with children under 5. I spoke with Dr. Calvin Calhoun, Pharm.D., an assistant pharmacy manager in Tallahassee, Florida, who specializes in pediatric care to help answer some common questions about recognizing COVID-19 in young children.



How to Recognize COVID-19 Symptoms in Kids Under 5

In addition to the cough and runny nose, my son experienced flu-like symptoms for nine of our 14 days of quarantine. It was disheartening to say the least, but we tried our best to treat it and keep him comfortable.

I thought my son may have contracted RSV because his symptoms were similar to when he’d contracted it months earlier. Dr. Calhoun agreed this was common. “COVID-19 is tricky to detect because it mimics a respiratory infection. The best thing for parents to do [if their child becomes sick] is rule out COVID-19 first,” he said.


How to Treat COVID-19 Symptoms in Kids Under 5

Dr. Calhoun advised parents to treat it symptomatically, regardless of if the child is asymptomatic or not. Always check with your pediatrician, but this could look like administering Tylenol or Ibuprofen to reduce fevers and ensuring they get plenty of fluids and rest.

If the child begins to suffer from coughing attacks, Dr. Calhoun also recommended parents take them to the hospital to prevent fluid buildup in the lungs. Due to the presence of the Omicron variant, some children are beginning to develop croup, which is an infection of the upper airways. The good news is that croup is treatable and easily recognized by doctors. They may offer your little one breathing treatments or steroids to help.

Per Dr. Calhoun’s recommendations, it should be noted that the number of pediatric hospitalizations is rising. Although children are able to receive the vaccine beginning at the age of 5, children younger than that are not able to receive it. To help keep young children safe, following the current—albeit changing—CDC guidelines is recommended. Additionally, parents with kids under 5 can:


kids covid symptoms

Source: Jelleke Vanooteghem | Unsplash


Continue to Practice Social Distancing

If you find that you are in a public environment, it’s important to maintain a distance of six feet from others. 


Maintain Good Hygiene

This can look like continuing to wash your hands after touching surfaces, sneezing, etc. and wiping down highly touched surfaces. If your child goes to daycare or has a child care provider, parents are likely familiar with daycare center protocols—and may have experienced closings too. It’s still important to check the safety measures and guidelines they have in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.


Avoid Those Who are Sick

Since younger children’s immune systems are still developing, they are able to pick up infections more quickly. If possible, keeping them away from people who are sick can help reduce the chance of them contracting COVID-19. At the same time, keeping your own kids home when they’re sick can help prevent the spread.


We may be unable to predict the outcome of the pandemic, but we can try to keep our children as safe as possible. Personally, some of my worries have been alleviated knowing that those who specialize in pediatric care are working to understand this disease in children. If you suspect your child may have contracted COVID-19, please try not to blame yourself. That is easier said than done, trust me, but all we can do as parents is show our children that we will continue to be there for them during this unprecedented time.

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