The Covid-19 coronavirus is now an international emergency, and Singapore is one of the countries most affected.
Since the alarm was raised early this year, the Covid-19 coronavirus has sickened thousands of people worldwide, the majority of whom are in Mainland China.
The pneumonia-like disease has also claimed more than 565 lives in China, heightening fear and anxiety. Most of the victims were older adults and had pre-existing conditions.
But how worried should parents of babies and young tots, and pregnant mums be about the Covid-19 coronavirus? What should mums-to-be and their families do to protect themselves?
What is the Covid-19 coronavirus?
It is a pneumonia-like disease first discovered among workers at wild animal markets in China in December 2019.
The World Health Organization calls it a “public-health emergency of international concern“.
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How does the Covid-19 coronavirus spread?
The Covid-19 coronavirus spreads much like the common cold, through close contact (less than 1 metre) with an infected person for more than 30 minutes, says Dr Ooi Pei Ling, a paediatrician at SBCC Baby and Child Clinic (Rivervale).
It can also spread if you come into contact with a contaminated object or surface before you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, she says.
Watch out for these symptoms
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Shortness of breath
- Body aches
A study published in the Lancet medical journal on Jan 24 suggests that virus could spread even when there are no symptoms. In the particular study, a 10-year-old boy was diagnosed with the Covid-19 coronavirus, even though he showed no symptoms. His family members had developed symptoms.
Who is most at risk of getting infected?
You are most likely to contract the Covid-19 coronavirus if you’ve contact with infected individuals, Dr Ooi says. This includes those who have travelled to or from China or healthcare professionals who are treating infected patients.
According to various news reports, most of those who died were elderly and/or had other medical conditions.
Should pregnant women and parents of young kids be worried?
Everyone (including the young) is equally at risk of getting infected if they come in close contact with a person who is infected, for more than 30 minutes, says Dr Ooi.
The youngest infected person so far in Singapore is a six-month-old baby, according to a report in The Straits Times.
According to a report in The New York Times, children seem to have a milder version of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
Pregnant women may also be at higher risk of developing complications, Dr Ooi says. On Feb 2, an infected coronavirus patient gave birth to her baby, who was similarly affected. According to a Reuters report, doctors in China now believe that the coronavirus may be passed from mother to unborn child.
Should pregnant women and parents with babies avoid going out?
Dr Ooi said young children, babies and pregnant mums-to-be can still go out while observing good hygiene practices:
- Practise good hand hygiene (wash hands thoroughly with soap frequently – after using the toilet, before meals, after blowing nose, coughing or sneezing, and so on).
- If you have no access to soap and water, use hand sanitisers that contain at least 60 per cent alcohol.
- Minimise touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid contact with people who are unwell.
- Avoid crowded places as it increases your chances of coming into contact with someone who is sick there.
If your child is very young, help them with frequent hand hygiene. And if they are old enough to understand, explain to them how germs spread and the importance of good hygiene so that they will follow the preventative measures.
Children should also be reminded not to touch their eyes, nose and mouths without first washing their hands. Clean baby toys before allowing your baby to put them into her mouth.
If you or your child is unwell, rest at home and wear face masks to avoid spreading their germs to others. A 3-ply surgical face mask is sufficient, but remember the following when wearing a mask:
- The coloured waterproof side should face outwards
- The mask should cover the nose and mouth completely
- The metal nosepiece should be adjusted to ensure a snug fit
Read our article on the different types of masks available and what they protect your from.
Don’t use surgical masks on infants. Dr Ooi warns that it is not safe and may lead to suffocation.
When should I pull my child out of infant care or childcare?
Students and staff of public educational institutes, as well as staff and people at public childcare facilities, have to take 14 days’ leave of absence starting the day after their return if they have been to China, according to the Early Childhood Development Agency and the Ministry of Education.
Other measures at childcare centres include temperature screening for all children, staff and visitors. Parents or visitors who have a fever or display respiratory symptoms (such as cough and runny nose) are not allowed to enter the preschool’s premises.
With these precautionary measures against the Covid-19 coronavirus in place, Dr Ooi says there is no need to remove your baby or child out of infant care or the childcare centre. But if your child is unwell, keep her at home to prevent infecting other kids at the centre.
Keep up-to-date with the information shared by the MOH to take the appropriate actions based on the most current information and directives.
Is swimming safe?
If your kid is well, it’s safe to take him swimming, says Dr Mohana Rajakulendran, a paediatrician at Parkway East Hospital.
“Chlorine in swimming pools is a good broad spectrum disinfectant which is protective against viruses. Do remember to shower your child at the poolside prior to and immediately after swimming to reduce spread of any viruses through contact. Head home, once your child is done with his/her swim to minimise exposure to others outside of the pool,” she adds.
Should I stop sending my kid for his group enrichment/tuition?
Dr Mohana notes that while schools and childcare centres have strict rules for temperature screening and mandatory leave of absence for those returning from high-risk countries, this is not the case for group enrichment and tuition centres.
She advises: “Rather than avoiding lessons, be an advocate for your child’s health. Enquire with the centre’s administrator if adequate measures have been taken for your child’s safety. These would include obtaining travel declarations, keeping returning travellers from high risk areas- both teachers and students away for the stipulated leave of absence and temperature screening for all staff and students.”
Check if the centre takes precautions against the Covid-19 coronavirus. These include opening windows to improve ventilation (where possible), making hand sanitisers available, and wiping down desks and other equipment between classes.
My kid has eczema, so won’t frequent hand washing and using hand sanitisers make his condition worse?
Using alcohol-based hand sanitisers frequently could dry your child’s skin and worsen eczema, Dr Mohana admits.
But, she adds: “It has been proven that simple hand washing with soap and water is sufficient to eradicate viruses. This would be the preferred option in your child with eczema.”
“Do also remember to moisturise your child’s hands after hand washes. Use a pump bottle or a scoop to portion moisturiser from a tub to prevent cross-contamination of creams. If using a hand sanitiser is unavoidable – for example, during travel, pick one with an emollient base so that it is gentler on your child’s skin.
Should you see the doctor immediately if you have a cold or cough?
You may be worried about seeing a doctor now if you’re sick, since the Wuhan virus is spreading so rapidly.
But the risk of contracting the 2019-nCOV infection is low, provided you have not travelled to Wuhan or China from early January 2020 till now, says Dr Ooi.
Nonetheless, everyone, including pregnant women, children and babies should seek medical attention if you are not feeling well, particularly if symptoms have not improved in three to four days regardless of whether you have self-medicated.
Babies and young children might not be able to verbalise their symptoms. Hence, seek immediate medical attention if your child is breathless, has difficulty breathing, lethargic or refuses to drink.
My family returned from China and are taking Leave of Absence. Should I still send my child to childcare?
Dr Ooi says viruses can easily spread when there is close contact with another person who has the virus, or by touching objects or surfaces that the infected person has touched.
If children are living together with parents or family members who have travelled to China, she advises parents to take enhanced precautions and keep their children at home for 14 days to monitor their health and seek medical attention promptly if feeling unwell.
How else can I protect children?
Besides practising good hand hygiene, other measures include:
- Keeping away from people who are unwell or show signs of illness like fever, cough or runny nose. If possible, avoid crowds and gatherings if your baby is younger than three months old.
- Avoid unnecessary personal contact with others such as being kissed.
- Keep household surfaces clean and sanitise your little ones’ toys and pacifiers often.
- Teach everyone in the household to cough or sneeze into a tissue and discard immediately, or get them to cover their noses and mouths if they cannot get a tissue in time.
According to an article in The Straits Times, a recent report found the coronavirus on the doorknob of an infected person. As the coronavirus is spread via droplets, contact transmission may happen – when you touch a surface that contains these droplets and get infected. Professor Wang Lin Fa, the director of the emerging infectious disease programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, thinks that the risk of contact transmission is higher than droplet transmission.
“Everybody’s wearing a mask but they are not doing anything to protect their hands,” he tells ST. “The lift is the most dangerous place because it is an enclosed space, and everybody has to touch the button to go up or down, or to close the door.”
He adds: “And if you really have to go out, the lifts and the public toilets, these are the places where I would be very, very careful about touching any surfaces to not risk a coronavirus infection.”
He advises using a pen to press lift buttons – remove the cartridge and uncap the pen when you need to touch the button. After using it, cap it and keep it.
Photos: The Straits Times (Infectious Diseases Unit, hospital bed & MRT train) and 123RF.com