A woman and a baby. 

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Here is how to protect your baby from Covid-19

What you need to know:

  • While most Covid-19 studies are focused on adults, doctors say children, including babies, can get infected.
  • Although most infants younger than one year experience asymptomatic or mild disease, babies with chronic medical conditions and premature infants are at an increased risk of hospitalisation if infected with the virus.

Observing public health measures and standard operating procedures (SOPs) remains necessary to protect children from Covid-19 infection. While most studies of Covid-19 are focused on older adults, doctors say children, including babies, can get infected. 

Angella Nakamya suffered from Covid-19 two weeks before giving birth to her first baby. At the time, a vaccine had not yet been developed and emphasis was on observing SOPs or getting treatment.

While many of her friends advised her to steam with different herbs, her doctor discouraged her for fear of affecting her unborn baby. She decided to check into hospital and after one week on treatment, she went into labour.

“Fortunately, the difficulty in breathing had reduced and I delivered normally but I still had Covid-19 symptoms. I not only had to stay in hospital while on treatment but I also had to nurse while still observing SOPs in order not to infect her,” she says.

Even after delivery, Nakamya was encouraged to observe SOPs such as washing her hands before touching the baby and always wearing a mask until she tested negative. She was on continuous review for about two months even after she returned home.

“I wore a mask every time I was going to breastfeed her and washed my hands with soap and sanitised. Two weeks after delivery, I tested negative and I was allowed to go home and thankfully, my baby remained Covid-19 free,” she says.

Symptoms
Globally, August 2021 was the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic that the infection rate in patients younger than 18 years surpassed the rate in adults aged 18 to 64 years.

According to Dr Sabrina Kitaka, a paediatrician at Mulago National Referral Hospital, fortunately, most infants younger than one year experience asymptomatic or mild disease with mild symptoms.  Although most babies and infants do not suffer serious illness from Covid-19, it is important that you protect them from catching it because:

“They have small airways which makes them susceptible to the effects of any respiratory infection. They often find it hard to breathe and can have very low oxygen levels, especially when mucus and inflammation block their airways,” Dr Kitaka says.

She adds that since they have small bodies, babies can become dehydrated very quickly from rapid breathing, fever and gastrointestinal symptoms associated with respiratory illnesses. Infant dehydration affects all body systems and this can lead to organ damage if not medically managed as soon as possible.

Low immunity
Dr Kitaka says infants have an immature immune system which cannot fight illness easily. Although infants are born with some innate immunity and are able to get antibodies from their mother’s breast milk, infants are unable to mount a robust immune response to new infections very quickly. This immature immune response makes them more susceptible to complications of infections.

It is also important to note that babies with chronic medical conditions and those that were born prematurely are at an increased risk of hospitalisation when they get infected with the virus because of their weak immune system.

Meanwhile, testing infants with suspicious symptoms for Covid-19 is a key step in providing proper medical care.

Symptoms
The symptoms of Covid-19 in babies are similar to those of adults but it is important to take your baby for a test to confirm. The symptoms of Covid-19 in infants include:
● Cough
●Fever
●Runny nose
●Rapid breathing
●Wheezing
● Fatigue
●Poor feeding
●Vomiting
●Diarrhea
● Increased work of breathing    
   
How to protect your baby
In May 2021, the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) authorised the use of 30-mcg Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for individuals aged 12 to 15 years. There is apparently no vaccine for infants and until infants are able to be directly protected from coronavirus through vaccination, there are ways to protect your baby from Covid-19 which include:

Vaccination
Getting vaccinated with any available Covid-19 vaccine as soon as possible protects so many people around you including your infant. By vaccinating adults who care for infants, the risk for children in the home declines.
 “Covid-19 vaccine antibodies can be passed on to the breastfeeding baby. Mothers both pregnant and breastfeeding should be able to receive the vaccine. If you get infected while breastfeeding, practise the usual SOPs such as wearing a mask and frequently washing your hands but continue to breastfeed,” Dr Kitaka says.

Wash your hands before holding your baby and ensure other people do the same. PHOTO/COURTESY

She also advises people that care for infants to limit the number of movements they make to public places such as churches, mosques, supermarkets and many other places that expose the baby to many people.

“Limit your outings with your baby because many people who see babies if they are known to you will want to touch the baby, which increases their risk of catching the virus. If you want anything, it is better to utilise the delivery services that are available,” she advises.

You can also limit the number of visitors that come to your home. Any unvaccinated individuals invited into your home should wear a mask while inside and while holding your infant.

To breastfeed or not to

With adequate support and guidance from your personal doctor, the World Health Organisation (WHO) remarks that a mother can safely care for and feed her baby while infected with Covid-19.

Human milk contains antibodies and a number of living cells that protect babies from illness. When an infant consumes human milk, protective antibodies and other antimicrobial agents coat the lining of the infant’s respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, neutralising micro-organisms of all types and defending against illness. 

It is, however, important to understand that human milk does not provide the same type or strength of immune protection as a vaccination. 
It is, therefore, important that a mother gets vaccinated in order to boost their immunity.
Current evidence suggests that the breastmilk of Covid-19 infected mothers is not a significant risk to infants therefore, a mother with the virus can continue breastfeeding. 

“Due to the various benefits of breastfeeding, I advise an infected mother to continue nursing the baby or offer expressed milk but wear a mask at home and while caring for your infant. Do not place a mask or face shield on your infant, wash your hands frequently, especially before breastfeeding and routinely clean commonly touched surfaces,” Dr Kitaka advises.

If someone else in the family gets infected, it is best they maintain a distance from your infant while not providing direct care or feeding, until your isolation period is complete.

Treatment for Covid-19 in babies and children

Treatment for Covid-19 in babies and children
If your baby or child has mild Covid-19 symptoms, you can likely care for them at home about the same way you would if they had the flu.

Use common cold and flu remedies and treatments to help manage their Covid-19 symptoms and make them more comfortable. You might want:
● Children’s pain medication.
● Fever reducers.
● Cough syrup.
● Air humidifier.
● Chicken broth.
● Orange juice.

That said, always talk to your child’s paediatrician about what is appropriate if you have a child or baby under age six.

There are not yet any specific, proven medications to treat Covid-19 in adults or children. In more serious cases, your baby or child might need hospital treatment for symptoms and complications caused by the coronavirus. These include:
● Oxygen therapy.
● Ventilation (in extremely severe situations).
● Medication to help with breathing.
● Medication to help the immune system- Source: www.healthline.com

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