While SARS COVID2 has been less known to impact young children, a Johannesburg mother, who almost lost her five-month-old baby to the coronavirus, is warning otherwise.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) says children have been found to be more resilient to the virus. Despite this, they are warning that prescribed health measures must also be applied to children.

A trip to sunny Durban for the Christmas break almost ended in death for a Johannesburg family. After returning to their Kyalami home on the 1 January, they found out that a family member they had interacted with in Durban had tested COVID-19 positive.

Mother of two, Candice Van Niekerk, shared her ordeal on Facebook. She says she was naive about the virus until her five-month-old son, Ben, developed symptoms and had to be hospitalised.

“We didn’t test the kids because we were under the impression that even if they were infected, they were not going to suffer from any real illness, which was naive. On Monday morning, we got our results back. I was negative and my husband positive. Ben sounded like a rattle when he breathed, it was bad. He had a runny nose. I started to panic. At 2am on Tuesday morning, I couldn’t hear him in his cot. He was lying there, eyes open, boiling to touch. We rushed him to the emergency room after putting him in a lukewarm bath.”

She left the hospital with her baby after his temperature subsided only to have it climb again. They rushed him to a paediatrician who admitted Ben to the paediatric COVID-19 unit.

In her post, van Niekerk says the ward had been filled with young children fighting for their lives.

“He is still taking loads of medication. He is not 100% but I think we are over the worst. My frustration and the reason that I shared the post, I felt so guilty because of my naivety. I had no idea that this could happen to my children. Had I known, I wouldn’t have gone to Durban. We genuinely believed that we were going to lose Ben on Tuesday. You cannot understand how helpless you feel and it’s truly terrifying. If your child ends up in ICU, you can’t stay with them; you have to leave them there.”

Increase in children presenting with COVID-19 symptoms at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital

Paediatrician at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, Professor David Moore, says that since December 2020, the hospital has seen an increase in children presenting with COVID-19 symptoms.

He says that since the start of the pandemic, over 200 children have been treated at Africa’s largest health facility for the virus and that 23 COVID-related deaths have been recorded.

Throughout the course of the pandemic, we have had to make dramatic changes to the functioning of the paediatric department. During the first wave of the pandemic, we had 12 %  of our patients presenting with COVID disease. Now we have seen from mid-December a steady increase in the number of patients we are admitting with SARS COVID2 infection. Currently, we are peaking with 10% of our admission. We have had a substantial number of paediatric cases with COVID. Throughout the pandemic, at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital we have had 210 confirmed cases and most have required hospitalisation.”

Take a stroll to your local supermarket or mall and you will find many children roaming around with no masks. Acting Executive Director at the Institute for Communicable Diseases, Professor Adrian Puren, says that while there is no clinical proof that children are now at an increased risk of contracting the coronavirus, prescribed health protocols must apply to all children.

The children are not as marginally affected as adults. With clinical presentations, we are not seeing a more severe presentation in terms of symptoms. They certainly are infected, hospitalised but the pattern has not dramatically changed from the first surge. Just because children are not affected, we still need to have the same levels of caution as we would for adults. They should really be wearing masks. We should limit our exposure in terms of closed spaces. All the same rules apply to children as well.”

Paediatric experts say that most children that contract COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and will not need to be hospitalised but that would not be the case for all children.

The latest coronavirus stats: 

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