Many South African children have asthma. As coronavirus infections increase, there is concern about what the pandemic means for them specifically. This anxiety is heightened as schools begin to re-open. Knowledge about the virus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, is continuously developing but this what we know to date:
- Children are less likely than adults to be infected with coronavirus. Statistics from across the world show that children make up a very small proportion of those with coronavirus infection.
- Children who get coronavirus usually have a very mild illness. Children may be infected and not have any symptoms at all. Severe COVID-19 is very uncommon in children. Fatal disease is extremely rare and usually occurs in children with serious underlying medical conditions.
- Asthma is a chronic disorder of the small airways. Most children with asthma have mild or moderate symptoms that can be managed well by using the correct medications.
- Coronavirus also affects the respiratory tract, although the area it affects is different from that involved in asthma. This is why there has been concern that asthmatics might be more vulnerable to the illness. However, well controlled asthmatics are at no greater risk of being infected with coronavirus, or of having severe COVID-19 infection, than other children.
- Respiratory viruses may cause a worsening of asthma symptoms. They are more common in the winter months. The best way to prevent this is to ensure children with asthma are well controlled through correct use of regular controller medications. This advice applies to all asthmatics over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. This is not the time to stop or wean asthma treatment.
What should we be doing for asthmatic children?
- Ensure ongoing use of regular controller treatment.
- Should a child have symptoms of asthma attacks or loss of asthma control (cough, tight chest, wheezing, difficulty breathing) seek advice from the child’s healthcare provider.
- Pay attention to good hygiene practices and social distancing.
- Vaccinate against influenza. Asthmatic children should receive the flu vaccination every year. Symptoms of flu and coronavirus are similar so vaccination against the flu this year will prevent confusion and a ‘double whammy’ should both be contracted simultaneously.
- Well-controlled asthmatics can return to school. Education for children is really important, and those who are not at higher risk should now return to school. Asthmatics who are well-controlled are at no higher risk than other children.