Coronavirus: Advice for children who are immune compromised or have pre-existing conditions

Coronavirus preexisting conditions
May 29, 2020

Last updated: 28 May 2020

This advice will be updated as further information becomes available.

Parents of children who are immunocompromised or have pre-existing medical conditions are understandably worried about the current risk of COVID-19. Our senior staff at PCH who oversee specialist areas within the hospital have developed the following information for our families and patients.

How might Coronavirus affect my child?

While children, like adults, are susceptible to Coronavirus infection, children consistently represent only 1-2% of confirmed cases worldwide. In addition, children tend to have less severe disease than adults when they are infected with Coronavirus.
 
There is concern that children who are immune compromised (receiving immune therapy or undergoing cancer treatment) or have a pre-existing condition (such as a heart or lung condition or a severe disability) may be more susceptible to Coronavirus infection.  Encouragingly it appears from published reports that most children, even those with serious underlying immune compromise, experience relatively mild symptoms of Coronavirus. However, as this is a complex and evolving area, parents and carers should speak with their child’s specialist for advice about their child’s specific condition.
 
It is important to note that, so far, the majority of children have acquired COVID-19 from a family member or close contact.  It is therefore important that families, especially those with children that are immunocompromised or have a significant underlying condition, take steps to protect them.

Symptoms of Coronavirus

The symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
Nasal congestion or a runny nose alone is uncommon.

What we're doing at PCH

There have been a number of hospital wide changes made to ensure the safety of our patients, families and staff at PCH.

We have strict infection control and testing procedures in place to protect all our patients, families and our staff.

Any child presenting to PCH with symptoms consistent with Coronavirus will be isolated and testing recommended. Any staff members that care for patients who have confirmed or suspected Coronavirus will wear protective equipment and follow strict infection control procedures.

Your safety and the safety of our community is our top priority. Read more about visiting and staying at PCH.

What you can do

Follow the infection prevention measures being asked of the community as a whole to reduce the risk of infection transmission:
 
Wash your hands
Frequently wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand gel. Here's how to wash your hands properly.
 
Try not to touch your mouth and nose
If you need to cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth with a paper tissue or flexed elbow – throw the tissue immediately after use and wash your hands.
 
Maintain physical distancing from others
The more distance there is between you and others, the harder it is for a virus to spread. Keep at least 1.5 m away from other people outside of your household wherever possible.
 
Stay home if you are unwell
It is important to stay away from other people if you or your child develops any cold or flu symptoms. In addition, avoid close contact with anyone that you know is unwell.

Face masks

You do not need to wear a mask if you are healthy. While the use of masks can help prevent transmission of disease from infected patients to others, masks are not currently recommended for use by healthy members of the public for the prevention of infections like Coronavirus.
 
Children in higher risk categories should only use masks if this is part of their usual prescribed practice when attending outpatient appointments. It's also useful to know that face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly and disposed of safely for them to be effective.

What to do if your child becomes unwell

If your child is displaying symptoms and they are very unwell or you are concerned about their condition, please bring them to the PCH Emergency Department. Coming to PCH Emergency Department is safe, and we encourage you to bring your child to us if you are concerned.
 
It is essential that you inform the Emergency Department or your local treating hospital before your arrival so necessary arrangements can be made.
 
You should follow the usual process for going to the PCH Emergency Department if your child has a fever or is acutely unwell. You will be assessed and treated in the same way as usual (e.g. for children with cancer, the Febrile Neutropenia pathway).
 
If your child does not have a routine management process to follow in the event of fever or illness and has symptoms consistent with Coronavirus, please take them to be tested and isolate at home. Testing can be done either through your local Coronavirus clinic or through some private pathology collection centres with a pathology request from your GP. See HealthyWA website for further details or contact the Coronavirus information helpline on 13 COVID (13 268 43).

Medication supply

There is no shortage of medicines in Australia in response to Coronavirus pandemic. However there is a high volume of requests to have prescriptions collected early. PCH Pharmacy is working to ensure that families have the medications they need during this time and have made some changes. Read more about these changes here.
 
Please do not stop your child’s regular medications. They should continue their regular treatment, including immunosuppressive medications unless directed otherwise by their treating team.

Outpatient Appointments

Outpatient clinics are proceeding as scheduled at this stage but you may notice some changes. Some clinic appointments may now be run through Telehealth; you will contacted directly by the relevant outpatient department before your appointment if this is appropriate for your child.
 
For some patients, the health of your child may be compromised if you do not attend or you defer your outpatient appointment. We recommend that parents should only reschedule an outpatient appointment if they are being quarantined at home following travel or close contact with a confirmed Coronavirus case, or if your child has a fever and/or acute respiratory symptoms. Non-urgent appointments should be rescheduled when your child is better. Read more about outpatient appointments here

Vaccination

There is no vaccine available for Coronavirus yet, but there is for influenza. We recommend that your child gets the influenza vaccination this year to reduce the likelihood of getting influenza infection. Getting Coronavirus and influenza at the same time could potentially make your child very unwell.
 
In WA, influenza vaccination is free this year for all children aged from 6 months to year 6 of primary school and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is also freely available for children with underlying medical conditions and immune compromise. Find out more about where to get your child vaccinated.

Going to school

As of Monday 18 May, all WA public school students were required to return to school. Exemptions can be granted for students who are medically vulnerable or have medically vulnerable family members. These students will continue to learn from home and will be supported by their schools and the Department of Education.
 
Your child’s treating team or your GP can grant these exemptions based on your child’s individual condition. Please contact your child’s treating team to discuss your situation if you are concerned.

Keeping up to date

Stay up to date on the latest Coronavirus information by checking the following sources:
Call the WA Health Coronavirus information helpline on 13 COVID (13 268 43) or the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 with any concerns or questions.

More questions?

Please speak to your child’s treating team.