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What Does COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Mean for Children with Cancer or Other Illnesses?

What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. It is a respiratory illness that is passed from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new coronavirus first detected in China.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common throughout the world. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new and different type of coronavirus.

How Does COVID-19 Spread?

COVID-19 can spread from close contact with an infected person. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby (within 6 feet) or may possibly be inhaled into the lungs. The virus may also be spread when a person touches a surface with the virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus may live on surfaces for a few days.

Who Can Get COVID-19?

Anyone can get COVID-19. The illness is spread person-to-person. In other words, anyone can develop COVID-19 after coming in close contact with someone infected with the virus. The virus may also be spread when a person touches a surface with the virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.

What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness (a cold or the flu) caused by a virus. The main symptoms are fever, fatigue, and cough. Some patients may have breathing problems, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, or loss of the sense of smell or taste. Symptoms usually develop 2-12 days after exposure to the virus.

Most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms. Some people may have the virus and not show any symptoms at all. Children seem to be less affected than older adults, based on initial results from China. 

In some cases, people with COVID-19 become very ill. COVID-19 can cause pneumonia, severe breathing problems, and even death. Although not as common, warning signs of severe illness are:

  • Shortness of breath or problems breathing

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Blue color of lips or face

  • Confusion

  • Decreased alertness or loss of consciousness

Are Children at Higher Risk for COVID-19?

No. In fact, children seem to be at lower risk for serious illness due to COVID-19. This is based on initial results from other countries. This does not mean that children don’t get COVID-19. But the risk of severe illness in children is generally lower.   Based on what is currently known, the highest risk for complications with COVID-19 is seen in older adults and patients with chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, or people with weak immune systems.    Families with children who have weakened immune systems due to an illness or medical condition should take extra care to prevent exposure to the virus. If symptoms develop, contact your doctor right away. 

Are Cancer Patients at Higher Risk for Serious Illness?

Cancer and cancer treatments can weaken the immune system. This means that a child with cancer is often at higher risk for infection and illness. In general, cancer can lower immunity and make it harder to fight infection in different ways:

  • The cancer or cancer treatment can lower the number of immune cells that attack germs. 

  • Cancer treatments, including  radiation  and certain medicines, may weaken the skin or membranes lining the mouth and digestive tract. This can allow some kinds of germs to enter the body more easily. We don’t yet know if this affects risk in COVID-19. 

We don’t know for sure if there is increased risk of severe illness in COVID-19 for pediatric cancer patients with weakened immune systems. But it’s possible that more severe illness could occur, so it is recommended to take precautions and watch carefully at this time. 

What Should I Do If My Child Is Immunocompromised?

If your child has a weak immune system or chronic health condition, it is important to plan ahead and take steps to prevent illness.

  • Talk to your doctor about the risk of COVID-19 and your child’s individual health needs.

  • Know what to do if symptoms develop. Call ahead before going to the doctor except in an emergency.

  • Make sure you have extra medicines and medical supplies on hand in case you must stay home due to an outbreak or quarantine. Talk to your doctor about options to get medicines such as shipping to your home.

  • Ask your doctor about any upcoming medical visits and if they should be postponed. Your doctor may recommend waiting on some types of appointments if they can be delayed.

  • Limit exposure by avoiding travel, crowds, public places, and contact with people, especially those who may be sick. This is sometimes called "social isolation" or "social distancing."

  • Pay attention to symptoms and monitor for signs of infection.

  • Know warning signs that require emergency care.

Simple Ways to Help Prevent COVID-19 Other ways to protect yourself and others from illness include:

  • Wash your hands often, especially after being in public places. Wash your hands after every time you cough, sneeze or blow your nose. Use soap and water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds.

  • If you don’t have access to soap and water, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

  • Avoid touching your face, mouth, and eyes.

  • Avoid close contact (within about 6 feet) with people as much as possible. COVID-19 is spread through droplets from a person’s sneeze or cough.

  • Cover coughs and sneezes and then wash your hands right away.

  • Wear a mask only if you are sick or caring for someone who has fever or respiratory symptoms. If your child is immunocompromised, ask your care team about the type of mask needed and instructions for use.

  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often.

  • Don't spray household disinfectants on people or pets!

More Information about Coronavirus and COVID-19

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