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

Coronavirus preexisting conditions
March 20, 2020

Last updated: 26 March 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 Coronavirus. Our senior staff at PCH who oversee specialist areas within the hospital have developed the following FAQs for our families and patients.

How might Coronavirus affect my child who is immunocompromised (i.e. undergoing cancer treatment) or has a pre-existing medical condition (i.e. a heart or lung condition, or severe disability)? 

What we currently know is that the Coronavirus infection in children appears to be milder than in adults.

For children who are undergoing treatment for cancer or have pre-existing medical conditions, they may be more susceptible which makes it harder to fight off infections such as Coronavirus.

Families who have children that fit these criteria need to take steps to protect themselves where possible. 

What should we do to protect our children and ourselves?

Children and young people who are immunocompromised or have pre-existing medical conditions, should following the infection control procedures that they usually would use. These are the same infection control measures that we are asking the community to follow: 

Washing your hands

Frequently washing 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.

Stay away from people who are sick

Avoid close contact with anyone if you, or they, have a cold or flu-like symptoms (maintain a distance of at least one metre).

Should we be wearing face masks to protect ourselves from infection?

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 should I do if my child becomes unwell and has symptoms of Coronavirus?

The symptoms of Coronavirus include fever with acute respiratory symptoms including cough, sore throat and breathlessness.

If your child has not travelled overseas or has not been in close contact with someone who has been tested and diagnosed with Coronavirus in the past 14 days and yet you are still concerned, discuss with your child’s treating team or call your GP.

If your child develops these symptoms and they have returned from overseas in the last 14 days or had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with Coronavirus, please seek medical attention by calling your GP or treating team.

What should I do if my child develops a fever or any other symptoms?

You should follow the usual process for going to hospital if your child has a fever or is unwell. You will be assessed and treated in the same way as usual.

If you are concerned that your child has symptoms of Coronavirus or has a known Coronavirus contact, it is essential that you inform the treating hospital before your arrival so necessary arrangements can be made. Please call your treating team before arrival. You should follow the usual process for going to the hospital Emergency Department if your child has a fever 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).

Specific contact details are included below.

Will supply of my child’s medications be affected by Coronavirus?

We have been looking at our supply chains to ensure a secure supply of necessary drugs. Currently there are no shortages linked to Coronavirus and no drug manufacturers have said they expect problems with supply due to Coronavirus.

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. 

What about vaccinations?

We recommend that people continue to receive their normal vaccinations, and strongly advise that families receive the influenza vaccine when it becomes available.

What about people visiting my child in hospital?

As is usual practice, any visitors who are unwell or who have any symptoms should not visit the hospital. 

All visitors should be reminded to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. 

We recommend that where possible, only primary caregivers or parents visit children in hospital.

Should we cancel my child’s treatment or outpatient appointments at the hospital?  

Outpatient clinics are proceeding as scheduled at this stage. For some patients, the health of your child may be compromised if they do not attend or you defer your outpatient appointments. 

The only parents who are currently recommended to reschedule an outpatient appointment are those that need to be quarantined at home. These children are those who:

  • Have returned from overseas travel and are in self isolation for 14 days after the date of return to Australia.
  • Any child who has had close contact with a known case of Coronavirus.

For some patients, the health of your child may be compromised if they do not attend or you defer your appointment. If you are concerned about attending outpatient clinics in person, please feel free to discuss this option with your treating team. If you do intend to change or cancel your appointment, please call the number on the bottom of your outpatient letter, or Outpatient Direct on 1300 855 275.

If your child has symptoms of fever, runny nose, sore throat or cough, we recommend that you reschedule your non-urgent appointments until your child is better. 

There may be other ways of attending your outpatient appointment. Some outpatient departments are contacting families to organise alternative ways of attending your appointment including telephone or videoconference appointments (Telehealth). They will be in contact with you directly prior to your appointment if this is suitable for your child.

What about the risk to my child of other patients who has suspected Coronavirus in hospital? 

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

Any future cases of Coronavirus will be isolated. Any equipment or staff who come into contact with 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.

Can my child go to school?

From Monday 30 March, the state government has advised that schools will remain open, but if possible that families should keep their kids home from school

We advise that children who are immunocompromised or have a pre-existing medical condition should speak to their treating team about their individual child's situation.

Can my child go to public events, sports or play dates?

Coronavirus spreads through close sustained contact with someone who has the virus (for instance being within one metre of someone for longer than 15 minutes). 

Currently large events over 500 people are banned in Australia, and over 100 people indoors are banned in Australia.

How do I keep myself up to date about COVID-19?

The best thing you can do is stay up to date by checking:

What if I have some more questions?

Please speak to your child’s consultant or any member of the team in your child's treating team.

Department specific contact details

PCH Oncology and Haematology

We have set up a dedicated Oncology and Haematology COVID-19 advice line on 0436 595 810 between the hours of 8.00am – 6pm, Monday to Friday.  Families and carers with questions and concerns about your child and Coronavirus can call this line.  

Please DO NOT call the HOT Phone (Haematology/Oncology Urgent Medical Advice Phone) for general Coronavirus questions and concerns, as this phone is for urgent medical advice. 

PCH patients with pre-existing medical conditions

Contact your treating team through the normal route.