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Two children in Canada have coronavirus: How the pandemic affects kids

Coronavirus around the world: March 12, 2020
Watch for the latest coronavirus headlines: Justin Trudeau and his wife are in self-isolation; Real Madrid players are in quarantine after player tests positive; and more.

As COVID-19 continues to affect more Canadians, many parents are not just worried about themselves — but also their children.

In Ontario, there are 17 new COVID-19 cases, including a baby boy. Health officials said the baby is under the age of one and is listed as having contracted the coronavirus through close contact.

A source within the Alberta government confirmed to Global News that a child in Calgary has also been confirmed positive for the virus, too.

As of March 12, there are 140 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — the illness caused by the novel coronavirus — in Canada, according to Health Canada and provincial health officials.

READ MORE: 6 things we still don’t know about COVID-19

While the news of the two Canadian children is concerning, research suggests kids have been largely spared by the virus.

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Coronavirus and kids

A recent report published in JAMA Network said that coronavirus cases in children “have been rare” and the median age of patients is between 49 and 56 years of age.

Another recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 425 patients with coronavirus and found no cases in children under the age of 15.

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The WHO has reported that 2.4 per cent of reported cases were children under 18 and just 0.2 per cent of cases were children who became critically ill.

Coronavirus outbreak: NSHA coordinating with partners on ventilator availability
Coronavirus outbreak: NSHA coordinating with partners on ventilator availability

“We see relatively few cases among children,” World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in February.

“More research is needed to understand why.”

How coronavirus affects kids

It’s a mystery why COVID-19 isn’t following the pattern of other viruses, like the seasonal flu which is especially lethal for the very young and old, said Dawn Bowdish, the Canada Research Chair in aging and immunity at McMaster University.

“The reason why it’s not affecting children is a mystery. It’s unusual,” Bowdish told Global News.

READ MORE: Pregnant people not at increased risk for coronavirus, experts say

“With almost all infectious diseases, young kids get them because they don’t have any immune experience. When it is the first time they see it, they don’t have anything to protect them. This is very different and nobody can tell why right now.”

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Bowdish said that those greatest affected by COVID-19 tend to have pre-existing health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and the lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“One of the reasons the older adults are so susceptible is because they’re more likely to have all those things,” she said.

It’s important to note that children are getting infected, Bowdish said, but most of them aren’t showing symptoms. This means that a child’s infection could go undetected, possibly spreading the virus to more at-risk adults.

U.S. travel measures raise questions for Canadians
U.S. travel measures raise questions for Canadians

Research on children and coronavirus has found that because kids might be less likely to become infected or show milder symptoms if they are infected, it might be leading to an “underrepresentation in the confirmed case count.”

Bowdish said that if your child has been in a public place like a school with a reported case, or has recently travelled to a high-risk environment, it may be best to keep them away from older people like grandparents. This is true even if they don’t show symptoms.

“When you hear ‘community spread,’ what that means is that there are people who are sick in the community who don’t know they’re sick, and [they’re] sort of spreading [the virus],” Bowdish said.

READ MORE: Children may be less affected by coronavirus, report

While there’s a lot of panic around COVID-19 right now, Bowdish said, it’s important parents talk about the virus to their children.

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“You can explain to them that even though it’s very unlikely they’ll get sick or need to go to the doctor… they have an important role in stopping this infection by washing their hands and by being careful around older adults.”

—With files from Global News reporters Andrew Russell and Laurel Gregory 

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca