Reviewed by Nathan Rabinovitch, MD
SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19 in adults and children. It is a new coronavirus, which is a large group of common viruses that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.
The coronavirus gets its name from what appears to be a crown or halo on the virus when it’s viewed under the electron microscope. “Corona” means crown in Latin. After referring to the virus as the 2019 novel coronavirus, the World Health Organization announced the official name as COVID-19 in February, 2020. The ‘CO’ stands for corona, the ‘VI’ denotes virus, the ‘D’ means disease and the ‘19’ relates to the year.
Most coronaviruses, such as the common cold, are not dangerous and mainly cause an infection in the nose, sinuses or upper throat. Coronaviruses also can cause pneumonia and bronchitis. People who have diabetes, heart and/or lung diseases, immune deficiency, or infants and older adults have a higher risk of being affected by a coronavirus.
COVID-19 and Children
In cases reported around the globe, COVID-19 looks different in children than it does in adults. Generally, most kids appear to be asymptomatic (not exhibiting symptoms) with mild to moderate disease. When children do have COVID symptoms, they are usually less severe than symptoms that adults experience. Most kids recover within one to two weeks after symptoms appear.
Children are less likely to report symptoms. Parents need to watch and ask how children are feeling.
The most common COVID-19 symptoms in kids are:
Shortness of breath
Less common symptoms for children include:
Chills or shaking chills
New loss of taste or smell
Often teens believe they can’t get sick because they are young. However, teens can get the coronavirus too.
Although mostly adults and older children have been diagnosed with COVID-19, babies and toddlers can still catch it. Too young to wear masks, parents of babies and toddlers need to take other measures to protect their young ones:
- Avoid public areas
- Wash hands thoroughly before touching and feeding children
- Clean and sanitize toys and other surfaces within their reach to help reduce the chance of catching this or other viruses
Diagnosing COVID-19 in Children
Most kids have no symptoms or only mild-to-moderate coronavirus symptoms. Call your child’s doctor if you notice any symptoms of COVID-19. The doctor can advise you about symptoms to watch, testing and home treatments. Younger children may need a referral for COVID-19 testing.
Your kid’s doctor will determine whether to test your child for COVID-19 based on signs, symptoms, exposure and risk factors.
The nasal swab test (also called molecular) can detect the presence of the COVID virus. A long swab takes a sample from the back of the nose. A positive result indicates that viral genetic material was found.
Learn more about the Swab Test.
Treating Children with COVID-19
Currently there is no medication to cure COVID-19. A variety of treatments are being investigated around the globe. Learn more.
Most kids with suspected or identified COVID-19 have mild symptoms and can recover with care at home. If your child has an increased risk of severe disease, your doctor will address the need for any additional care.
How to Prevent Kids from Getting COVID-19
The best way to prevent getting infected and having a serious case of COVID-19 is to:
- Vaccinate yourself and your family -- learn more about COVID-19 vaccines for kids
- Wear a mask indoors when around the general public and when around those who are sick
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face and eating
- Avoid contact with people who appear sick
- Disinfect surfaces such as faucets, door knobs, etc. Get more prevention tips.
Information changes often related to the virus. Watch for updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and your local public health department.
The information on our website is medically reviewed and accurate at the time of publication. Due to the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, information may have since changed. CDC.gov and your state’s health department may offer additional guidance.