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It’s a difficult fact that the Omicron variant is circulating widely in Canberra at the moment.
So what should you do if one of your kids begins to show symptoms? You listen to the experts.
“Having cared for children with COVID-19 over the past six months, I am pleased to be able to provide some reassurance,” says Dr Blessy Charles, Unit Lead in the Department of Paediatrics at Canberra Health Services, who has worked as part of the COVID Care@Home team along with her colleagues since its inception in August 2021
“We’ve seen that most children who test positive for COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, such as a runny nose and fever, and recover within a couple of days. Others have no symptoms at all.”
The good news, says Dr Charles, is that “very few children experience severe illness requiring medical intervention or hospitalisation. Our experience in this is backed up by national and international evidence.”
In fact, she says that “most of the children we’ve seen as COVID-19 inpatients at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children have been there to receive care while their parents were too unwell with COVID-19 to provide it, or because the children were dehydrated.”
“Kids can get a bit fussy when they feel unwell and avoid eating and drinking. It’s always important they keep their fluids up, but especially when they are unwell.”
Below, Dr Charles walks us through how to best prepare for a COVID case in a young member of your household.
Preparing your family for COVID-19
Even though the disease is typically mild in children, having a COVID-19 positive family member means being isolated at home for a few days. You may like to make some arrangements so that you are well prepared.
You could pre-cook and freeze some simple meals and stock up on children’s Panadol or Nurofen or their equivalent. Check you have a thermometer to monitor fevers. Buy some fruit juice and icy poles to help with hydration. You may like to purchase some Hydralyte (or similar) ice blocks, too.
I would also encourage you to talk to other family members, friends or neighbours to let them know you can help if they need support with pharmacy or grocery deliveries in the coming weeks, and ask whether they’re happy to do the same for you should the need arise.
It’s so important that we look after each other during this difficult time.
Speaking of which, do take a moment to talk to your child about the current COVID-19 situation, and to listen to their worries and thoughts about it all. This will help to ensure they feel safe and supported at this time. Knowing they can trust you and rely on you will help.
We’re lucky in Canberra that our children are often better about hand hygiene and covering their coughs and sneezes with their elbows than the adults around them. It’s been terrific to see the practical approach children have to the pandemic.
However, given the likelihood of COVID-19 being present in their social groups and school or care settings, families should take extra steps to minimise transmission.
The most important of these is getting vaccinated. Evidence shows vaccination provides excellent protection against serious illness from COVID-19 in children and helps keep your family safe and well.
This is particularly important for children who are immunocompromised. It will also limit the disruption to school and social activities for them and their families.
Even a single dose of the vaccine gives some protection against the illness.
Appointments for children are available at the AIS Arena COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic (call 5124 7700) or selected GPs and pharmacies (use the Australian Government’s Vaccine Clinic Finder).
Please also encourage your children to wash their hands regularly, to wear masks inside when they can’t socially distance and to play together outside or in well ventilated indoor spaces where possible.
Children with some underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, may be at higher risk of getting quite sick. In these cases, parents may wish to speak to their GP for further advice.
If your child has COVID-19
In most cases, the usual household carers of a child with COVID-19 can care for them safely at home, encouraging the child to rest and stay hydrated and offering medication like children’s Panadol or Nurofen for pain relief or mild fever if needed.
Dress them in appropriate clothing so they are comfortable—not sweating or shivering, and encourage them to rest and not overdo it.
Talk to them. Your child may be anxious about having COVID-19. Take some time to think about talking to them about what they can expect. When you do discuss it, be open and honest so they feel safe and supported. Perhaps reflect on past experiences with illness that they handled well, and let them express their feelings about the current situation to you.
When to seek medical help
Signs you may need to seek medical advice are a persistent fever which is not responding to treatment, breathlessness, reduced fluid intake, vomiting or diarrhoea.
In these cases, you can contact the COVID Care@Home team on 5124 3085, make an appointment for a telehealth appointment with your GP, call Health Direct on 1800 022 222 or, for those over the age of two, take them to the new COVID-19 Walk-in Clinic at Garran.
The Garran clinic provides COVID-19 positive patients with support, advice and interventions in relation to COVID as well as treatment of non-life threatening injuries or illnesses such as cuts and abrasions, strains and sprains, bites and stings, infections and wounds.
It is open every day from 7.30 am to 10 pm and no appointment is necessary.
If you are concerned your child is seriously unwell, has difficulty breathing, is severely dehydrated or fainting, please call Triple Zero (000) immediately and inform the operator that your child has COVID-19.
What about long COVID?
We have seen very little ‘long COVID’ in children in the ACT to date, but it is possible that after recovering from the initial illness your child may experience ongoing symptoms like fatigue, headaches, difficulty thinking clearly or a persistent cough. If this occurs, please talk to your GP.
With the start of the school year not far away, families are facing a hectic few weeks ahead while navigating this next stage of the Omicron wave.
The team at COVID Care@Home and the Centenary Hospital are ready to support you if you need us, and thank you in advance for your understanding during what will be a busy time for our health service.
This article was created in coordination with Canberra Health Services