Health

How pregnant women, babies and kids can be protected from coronavirus

Coronavirus health tips include practising good hygiene, sanitising toys

A six-month-old baby was among the recently identified coronavirus cases in Singapore, while newborns in Wuhan have been diagnosed with what is believed to be mother-child transmission.

Dr Ooi Pei Ling, a paediatrician at SBCC Baby and Child Clinic (Rivervale), talks about what parents of babies and young children as well as pregnant women need to know during this time.

Should this group of people be worried?

Everyone - including the young - is equally at risk of getting infected if they come in close contact with a person who is infected for more than 30 minutes, said Dr Ooi.

Experts cannot yet pinpoint the risk factors for complications. But babies and young children may be at higher risk of developing complications from it because their immune system is not fully developed.

Should they avoid going out then?

Dr Ooi said young children, babies and expectant mothers can still go out while observing good hygiene practices:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap frequently - after using the toilet, before a meal, after blowing nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • If you have no access to soap and water, use a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol.
  • Minimise touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid contact with people who are unwell. If possible, avoid gatherings if your baby is younger than three months.
  • Avoid crowded places as it increases your chances of coming into contact with someone who is sick there.

If your child is very young, help them maintain hand hygiene. If they are old enough to understand, explain to them how germs spread and the importance of good hygiene so that they follow the preventative measures.

What other hygiene practices should children follow?

Children should also be reminded not to touch their eyes, nose and mouth without first washing their hands. Clean the baby toys before allowing your baby to put them into his mouth.

Anyone unwell should rest at home and wear face masks to avoid spreading germs to others. A three-ply surgical face mask is sufficient, but remember the following when wearing it:

  • The coloured waterproof side should face outwards.
  • The mask should cover the nose and mouth completely.
  • The metal nosepiece should be adjusted to ensure a snug fit.

Do not use surgical masks on infants, Dr Ooi warns it is not safe and may lead to suffocation.

When should I pull my child out of infant care or childcare?

Students and staff of public educational institutes, as well as staff and people at public childcare facilities, have to take 14 days' leave of absence starting the day after their return if they have been to China, according to the Early Childhood Development Agency and the Ministry of Education.

Other measures at childcare centres include temperature screening for all children, staff and visitors. Parents or visitors who have a fever or display respiratory symptoms (such as cough and runny nose) are not allowed to enter the pre-school's premises.

With these precautionary measures in place, Dr Ooi said there is no need to move your baby or child out of infant care or the childcare centre. But if your child is unwell, keep him at home to prevent infecting other children at the centre.

Keep up to date with the information shared by the Ministry of Health to take the appropriate actions based on the most current information and directives.

Should you see the doctor immediately if you have a cold or cough?

You may be worried about seeing a doctor now if you are sick, since the coronavirus is spreading so rapidly.

But the risk of contracting an infection is low, provided you have not travelled to Wuhan or China from early January till now, said Dr Ooi.

Nonetheless, everyone, including pregnant women, children and babies, should seek medical attention if feeling unwell, particularly if symptoms have not improved in three to four days regardless of whether you have self-medicated.

Babies and young children might not be able to verbalise their symptoms. Hence, seek immediate medical attention if your child is breathless, has difficulty breathing, is lethargic or refuses to drink.

My family returned from China and is taking leave of absence. Should I still send my child to childcare?

Dr Ooi said viruses can easily spread when there is close contact with another person who has the virus, or by touching objects or surfaces that the infected person has touched.

If children are living together with parents or family members who have travelled to China, Dr Ooi advises the parents to take enhanced precautions and keep the children at home for 14 days to monitor their health. Seek medical attention promptly if feeling unwell.

How else can I protect my children?

Other measures include:

  • Avoid unnecessary personal contact with others such as being kissed.
  • Keep household surfaces clean and sanitise your little ones' toys and pacifiers often.
  • Teach everyone in the household to cough or sneeze into a tissue and discard it immediately, or get them to cover their nose and mouth if they cannot get a tissue in time.

This article was first published in Young Parents (www.youngparents.com.sg)

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