Why Are Social Distancing Kids Still Getting Sick?

Why are some kids still getting sick if they are have been our of school and stuck in the house for weeks because of COVID-19?

COVID-19 has kept most kids out of school for some time now. Many are also out of daycare. And few are out playing with friends.

So why are some still getting sick? What else is going on with kids stuck at home while we are all social distancing to flatten the curve.

Why Are Social Distancing Kids Still Getting Sick?

The first thought of some parents and pediatric providers upon reading this might be, wait, what, kids are still getting sick?

Flu activity is low in most of the United States.
Flu activity is low in most of the United States.

And that’s because it does seem that in addition to flattening the COVID-19 curve, staying home from school and daycare, washing hands, and general social distancing techniques has worked to keeps from getting sick with the flu and most other contagious diseases!

So while pediatric providers are available to do telemedicine appointments, it certainly isn’t business as usual, even as their days have gotten quite unusual.

Some kids are still getting sick though, and while we know what you are thinking, most probably don’t have COVID-19.

Why?

It might be because:

  1. they aren’t social distancing as well as they think they are, keeping in mind that with many diseases, people can be contagious for a few days before they show symptoms and you can sometimes catch germs from touching fomites, or objects that a sick person has recently touched. That still doesn’t mean that they have COVID-19 though. If they have contact with others, they could catch almost anything.
  2. they caught something from someone who had a disease a few weeks or months ago and is still shedding. For example, some infants can shed RSV for as long as 4 weeks after they get better. And they can shed the virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) for almost two months! Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIV), a common cause of colds and croup (seal bark cough), can also shed for many months.
  3. they caught something from someone who had a viral disease that causes a lifelong latent infection with periodic reactivation and shedding. Wait, what? While herpes (cold sores) is the main disease you might think of as causing a lifelong latent infection, there are others. You may not realize this, but after getting roseola (causes a high fever for a few days, followed by a rash after the fever breaks), HHV-6 (human herpes virus-6) kind of does the same thing. The big difference is that while you shed HHV-6 in your saliva from time to time, you don’t have any symptoms. You can get other folks sick though, especially older infants, once they lose the passive immunity they got from maternal antibodies.
  4. they have a sore throat caused by a virus, allergies, or reflux, but have tonsil stones and a positive strep test because they are a strep carrier. Nearly 20% of kids are thought to be carriers of strep, which means that every time they get tested, they will be positive, whether or not they actually have strep throat. That means that you don’t have to worry about testing the dog to see if they are carrying strep…
  5. they were exposed to a disease with a long incubation period. While the incubation period (the time between getting exposed to something to when you get sick) is just a few days for many diseases, it can be several weeks or months for others. In fact, your child might not get sick until 30 to 50 days after being exposed to someone with mono!
  6. they had a virus a few weeks ago and now have Gianotti Crosti syndrome (GCS), a post-viral rash on a child’s legs, arms, and buttocks. Although GCS might linger for weeks or months, it eventually goes away on its own. Another rash, this one likely caused by reactivation of the virus that causes roseola, might have you thinking your child is covered in ringworm (how would they get that if they haven’t left the house??). Instead, they likely have pityriasis rosea.
  7. their symptoms are caused by a non-contagious infectious disease that is spread from an animal or insect and not from another person – think Lyme disease (ticks), Cat scratch disease (cats), and West Nile virus (mosquitoes), etc.
  8. they got sick (bacteria, virus, or parasite) from contaminated lake or well water, which can cause diarrhea – giardiasis, Crypto, shigellosis, norovirus,
  9. they got sick (bacteria, virus, or parasite) from eating raw or contaminated food – giardiasis, shigellosis, norovirus, E. coli, salmonellosis
  10. their symptoms are caused by a non-infectious disease, which could be anything from allergies and asthma to poison ivy or herpes zoster (shingles).

It is also possible that their symptoms are being caused by anxiety, fear, and stress, which is not unexpected as they see schools closed, people getting sick and wearing masks, and are likely unsure about what’s coming next.

Has your child been sick recently?

Do you have a pet turtle or chickens in your backyard? They could be a source for Salmonella…

Do you understand why now?

Now call your pediatric provider if you have questions and need help getting them well, especially if they seem anxious or have extra stress from being home all of the time and away from school and their friends.

You especially want to call if you think that they might actually have COVID-19. While most kids have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, if your child has a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, you should call your pediatric provider or seek medical attention.

More on Covid-19 Kids Getting Sick

Telemedicine for Parents and Pediatric Providers

Ideally, we would continue to see kids in our office when they are sick, but until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, telemedicine is a great alternative to help us keep all of our kids healthy and recognize when they are truly sick, perhaps even needing immediate medical attention.

Many parents and pediatric providers are getting a crash course in telemedicine because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although using virtual visits when kids are sick certainly isn’t a new idea, many things have gotten in the way of making online visits to pediatric offices more popular. Chief among them is the simple fact that most people prefer an in-person, in-office visit.

Telemedicine for Parents and Pediatric Providers

Unfortunately, with the risk of spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus, even when kids don’t have symptoms, in-office visits aren’t always possible and certainly aren’t always safe anymore.

That doesn’t mean that your pediatric provider is going to close, as other non-essential businesses are doing.

Newborns, infants, children, and teens still need to be seen for essential preventative care and when they are sick.

Be flexible. Consider modifying your clinical schedule and physical space to minimize risk. Increase capacity to deliver telehealth when possible.”

Sally Goza, MD, FAAP President, American Academy of Pediatrics

Still, we are going to have to change how we provide that care until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Remember, while it is true that kids aren’t thought to be at risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms, they likely can still get and spread the spreading SARS-CoV-2 virus.

That’s why most pediatric providers are encouraging patients with fever and respiratory symptoms (URI, cough, runny nose, difficulty breathing) to stay home and are instead moving to phone/virtual consultations.

And with community spread in more and more areas, many are switching to telemedicine visits for any non-essential visit. Is your child due for an ADHD recheck? Do you need to discuss test results or need your pediatrician to look at a rash? Is your child constipated? With the risk of COVID-19, these are all ideal reasons to ask for a telemedicine appointment instead of visiting the office.

“Aetna announced it will offer zero co-pay telemedicine visits nationally for any reason for the next 90 days for all commercial plans. Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, and others have announced similar expansions of telehealth coverage.”

Opportunities To Expand Telehealth Use Amid The Coronavirus Pandemic

Before COVID-19, the simple fact that most insurance companies didn’t pay for telemedicine visits got in the way of there becoming more popular. That’s changed now, as have some laws and regulations (especially HIPAA restrictions) that had previously made it harder to do telemedicine.

Making the Most of Your Telemedicine Visit With Your Pediatric Provider

While some parents likely are excited about doing telemedicine visits, since they can be more convenient than visiting the office, many others probably still have doubts.

However you feel about it, since it is likely that your child might need a telemedicine visit before this is all over, let’s look at how we can all make the most of it.

To start, if possible, make the telemedicine visit with your usual pediatric provider or someone else in their office. Sign their telehealth consent form and review other polices and procedures before your online appointment.

It can also help if, just before the visit, you:

  • weigh your child
  • check your child’s temperature
  • check your child’s heart rate or pulse
  • check your child’s respiratory rate (count the breaths per minute)
  • write down all of the medicines your child has been taking
  • write down all of your child’s symptoms, including how long they have had them and if they are getting better or worse
  • write down how your child’s symptoms are affecting their eating, sleeping, and other activities, for example, are they drinking fluids, playful, consolable, or are they just crying all of the time?
  • write down any questions you have, as you might forget them during the telemedicine visit!
  • make sure you have a flashlight handy in case your provider wants to take a look at your child’s throat. Maybe even practice having them open wide before the visit.

And most importantly, understand how you are going to connect to your pediatric provider for the online visit! Are you using Facetime, Skype, or a website like doxy.me, etc?

Telemedicine Do’s and Don’ts

Are you and your child (yes, you want your child to be with you during the telemedicine visit!) ready for your first telemedicine visit with your pediatric provider?

Do have everything ready at home and be prepared for when your pediatric provider “shows up” to the visit.

It is also a good idea that you:

  • don’t use medical terminology, like lethargic (is your child really hard to wake up?), dehydrated (just mention the last time your child urinated, etc.), or say that your child is having trouble breathing (is your child breathing fast and hard or having trouble catching their breath?) – instead, just describe what your child is doing and how they are acting, which, since it is a telemedicine visit, your provider will actually get to see for themselves!
  • don’t say that you can’t control your child’s fever, if what you really mean is that it goes back up after their fever reducer wears off, and remember that fever is typically just a symptom, like a cough or runny nose, and not a sign of how sick your child is
  • don’t ask for or expect a prescription, especially for an antibiotic, just because you had an online visit with your provider. Studies have found high rates of antibiotic prescribing during telemedicine visits, especially for kids with respiratory infections, and that hopefully won’t continue as telehealth becomes more popular.
  • avoid sitting in a dark or noisy room, as that will make it harder for your provider to see and hear you

And at the end of the visit, make sure you understand your child’s diagnosis, recommendations for treatment, and most importantly, don’t forget to ask when you should expect that your child should begin to get better and the signs to look for that might indicate that they are getting worse.

“We recognize we are all practicing pediatrics in circumstances we have never encountered before in our careers.”

Sally Goza, MD, FAAP President, American Academy of Pediatrics

Are there limits to telemedicine?

Sure.

We can’t sew up a cut that needs stitches, for example, but you know what? If your child falls and cuts themselves, we can do a telemedicine visit to let you know if they do need stitches, maybe saving you a visit to the office or the ER.

Ideally, we would continue to see kids in our office when they are sick, but until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, telemedicine is a great alternative to help us keep all of our kids healthy and recognize when they are truly sick, perhaps even needing immediate medical attention.

More on Telemedicine for Parents and Pediatricians