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Infectious Diseases

Updated 26 June 2020

Babies with Covid-19 more likely to have mild illness and fever

A new report from a children’s hospital shows that most infants younger than 90 days who test positive for Covid-19 display only mild symptoms.

  • Although Covid-19-related infant deaths have been reported, research shows that symptoms are mostly mild
  • A high proportion of Latinx babies have been hospitalised in Chicago, which could be the result of several factors
  • There are still limited data on Covid-19 and infants. More research is needed to reveal the full impact

As Covid-19 numbers are surging ahead, many of us are worrying about how this new, unpredictable illness will affect our loved ones, young and old.

There have been some reports of infant Covid-19 deaths, the most recent being a 13-day-old baby from Sheffield, UK, as reported by the NHS England, and a premature baby in the Western Cape, South Africa.

But these cases seem to be rare exceptions, as a report from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago shows that infants younger than 90 days who tested positive for Covid-19 were likely to have a mild case of the illness, with minimal or no respiratory complications.

What did this report entail?

The findings of this report were published in The Journal of Pediatrics (pre-proof copy available here) and the research mentioned 18 infants with no significant medical history or comorbidities who tested positive for Covid-19.

All these infants had mild symptoms without significant respiratory distress. Out of the 18 infants, half were hospitalised, one with a bacterial urinary tract co-infection. None of them, however, required intensive care or respiratory support, even though viral loads from their nasal swabs were quite high.

According to the authors, an explanation for the higher viral load in these infants could be the fact that infants have a shorter incubation period than adults, where symptoms show up earlier when the viral replication is still high. Despite this, symptoms were mild.

"It is unclear whether young infants with fever and a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 require hospital admission," says Dr Mithal in the news release.

 "The decision to admit to the hospital is based on age, need for preemptive treatment of bacterial infection, clinical assessment, feeding tolerance, and adequacy of follow-up." There may be opportunities to utilise rapid SARS-CoV-2 testing to determine disposition of clinically well infants with fever,” he stated.

More Latinx babies admitted

Another factor that was seen in the research is that there were more babies of Latinx ethnicity admitted to hospital than any other ethnicity.

According to the research, more than 40% of cases in Chicago were of Latinx ethnicity during the height of the pandemic in May.

The study authors wrote that there may be additional factors that could be a reason for this, such as the limited access to sick-visit care in some primary care paediatric offices and limited access to telemedicine facilities. A greater risk of exposure was also a factor as many Latinx families live with extended family in one household, which makes physical distancing difficult.

Infants prone to mild illness, but more research needed

According to the authors, this research was crucial as there is currently only limited data on the impact of Covid-19 on infants. Even though some case reports state that infants are not excluded from more serious Covid-19, the majority of babies are more likely to have only mild illness.

READ | Children and Covid-19: What the latest study says

READ | Condition affecting kids with Covid-19 remains very rare, heart group says

READ | How one very ill infant survived Covid-19

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