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COVID-19 and kids

7-minute read

If you or your child have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance. Tell the phone operator and the paramedics on arrival if you or your child has COVID-19.

How does COVID-19 spread?

COVID-19 is spread mainly through:

  • direct contact (people touching each other)
  • people coughing, sneezing or breathing on each other
  • touching contaminated surfaces

People can be infected and spread the virus up to 14 days before symptoms start to appear.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 in children?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 in children are:

  • fever
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and stomach ache

Other symptoms include:

  • sore throat
  • headache
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • difficulty breathing
  • muscle or body aches
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite or poor feeding
  • loss or altered sense of smell or taste

Should I get my child tested or seek medical help?

If your child experiences any of the above symptoms, use the healthdirect Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What should I do if my child has COVID-19?

If your child does develop mild symptoms, they can be cared for at home.

Most children will have symptoms similar to other viral infections such as fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, vomiting, diarrhoea and lethargy.

Many children who get COVID-19 may have no symptoms at all.

You should seek medical care for your child if they are:

  • less than 3 months old
  • your child's symptoms seem to be getting worse
  • your child has a chronic illness and your GP has told you to seek help if your child has a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness
  • your child is immunocompromised
  • your child has a significant physical or intellectual disability
  • you have any concerns about caring for your child

How do I treat COVID-19 at home?

You can treat COVID-19 at home how you would usually treat other viral infections:

  • paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given for pain or fever (ibuprofen should not be used for children under 3 months of age)
  • use a saline spray if their nose is blocked
  • dress them in comfortable clothing, to prevent any sweating or shivering
  • make sure they drink lots of fluids
  • encourage them to rest

Does my child need to isolate at home?

Although there are no longer requirements to stay at home when you have COVID-19, it’s recommended that you stay at home for 7 days.

If your child has COVID-19, it’s best to keep them home from childcare or school until they have recovered.

Does good hygiene help stop the spread of COVID-19?

Practising good hand and cough hygiene is one of the best ways to protect yourself, your child and others from viruses.

Teach your child to:

  • wash their hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds (singing 2 rounds of 'Happy Birthday' will help) or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • wash their hands before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
  • cough or sneeze into their elbow
  • cough or sneeze away from other people
  • throw tissues away immediately and wash hands afterwards
  • cough away from other people
  • avoid touching their face and mouth

Some viruses can live on surfaces for many hours or even days, so it is important to routinely wipe down surfaces with a common household disinfectant. These include benches, light switches, doorknobs and cupboard handles.

Does my child need to wear a mask?

While you are mostly no longer required to wear a mask, some places, such as doctor’s offices and hospitals, may still need you to wear them.

Children under 2 years of age must not wear a mask since they are a choking hazard, while those under 12 are generally not required to wear one.

Can my child be vaccinated?

Yes, children over 5 years old can be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Children who are aged 6 months to less than 5 years with severe immunocompromise or disability, or who have complex or multiple health conditions that increase their risk of getting severe COVID-19, are recommended to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Visit healthdirect for information on vaccines available for children.

SERVICE FINDER — Use the Service Finder to find vaccination clinics and other health services.

How do I talk to my children about COVID-19?

It is likely that your child has heard a lot about COVID-19. Talking openly and reassuringly about COVID-19 with your child will help them understand what is going on and ease any anxiety.

Start by asking your child what they know about COVID-19 and if they have any questions about it. If they do not seem too concerned, keep the conversation brief and remind them to wash their hands routinely and to speak up if they're not feeling well.

Keep your language simple, especially if the child is under 6 years. You could say, for example, "There's a germ going around, which is making some people sick. The best way to keep people safe from the sickness is to wash our hands a lot. The doctors say we should even sing some songs while we do that."

Try not to show your own stress or emotional concerns around children. It's also a good idea to reduce your child's exposure to TV and social media reports about COVID-19 because research shows this can increase stress in children.

Stick to your child's regular activities and routines as much as possible, and spend time together doing things that promote calm and comfort. You can read together, play games or go for walks — or do any activity that makes your child feel happy and safe.

Resources and support

The best person to speak to is your maternity care provider, such as your doctor or child health nurse. They will be able to give you the information and advice you need.

Visit healthdirect to learn more about COVID-19, including information in languages other than English.

Visit the Department of Health and Aged Care to learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2023

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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