A child being given a syrup because of the flu. Image Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dubai: Although there has been a drop in general infections among children in comparison to last year, paediatricians in Dubai acknowledge that June has brought in a slight increase in illnesses among children.

Parents are baffled as to how their wards, who have largely remained indoors the entire quarter and have not been physically attending school due to the coronavirus pandemic, are still falling ill.

Dr Kedar Patnekar

Dr Kedar Patnekar, specialist paediatrician at Prime Medical Centre and Prime Hospital explained: “In the last one month, there has been a sudden spike in cases of fever, cough, cold and diarrhoea among children. Clinic visits have gone up and so have teleconsultations.”

Less Vitamin D exposure

According to Dr Patnekar, there are two main reasons for this. “Children have been cooped up indoors for the last three months with little exposure to sunlight. Their Vitamin D levels have fallen, which has impacted their immunity. The other reason is the fact that most children have started going out in June, ever since the lifting of movement restrictions, and there has been a greater exposure to microbes and pathogens of the season around this time of the year. The humidity and the exposure combined has given rise to a comeback in common cold and fever.”

Dr Patnekar also thinks that usually, around this time of the year, most children are out on vacation. However, this year, doctors are finding parents coming with children to the clinics. “So in July and August, we never had children visiting us, but this year, during the summer months also we are attending to them. Besides, as soon as places opened, children have been going to play areas in malls, taking a dip in the sea and going to restaurants. All this had been shut down for the past few months. So it is natural for them to pick up some infection and with weaker immunity, owing to lower levels of vitamin D, they are falling ill,” he explained.

Dr Patnekar said it was common for him to prescribe Vitamin D and calcium along with other basic prophylactics for common cold and loose motion.

Overall infection incidence has decreased in children

Dr Vishal Mehta

Dr Vishal Mehta, specialist paediatrician at RAK Hospital had a slightly different analysis. “I would say overall infections among children are far lower since the pandemic, than last year when schools were on. In April and May, we hardly attended to any children in our outpatient clinic. We have to differentiate between two age groups – school-going children above the age of three years, where vital infection incidence has decreased since the movement restrictions, as there are hardly any children going for any group classes or day care, nursery etc, which were the hubs of infection. Besides, parents are more vigilant about hygiene, sanitation and hand-washing, so children are generally kept infection free.

“On the other hand are infants, below three, where we see infections rising in the summer months and there are incidences of cough, cold and fever. If one were to compare the month of June to the previous three months of movement restrictions, there has been a slight increase as the restrictions opened and parents were more ready to come in for consultations for their children.

Children have a different immune response to COVID-19 exposure

Dr Mehta said that children’s immunity was not so developed and they reacted differently to the exposure to COVID-19. While children who do test positive have been seen to recover quickly and are usually asymptomatic, senior citizens have experienced severe respiratory difficulties and cytokine storms as their immune systems turn rogue and attack healthy tissue. This kind of thing does not happen in kids. Children react differently to the virus. However, of late, there have been reports of children showing symptoms of inflammed arteries, rashes akin to the Kawasaki disease. It was reported by the public health system in New York that 167 children showed symptoms akin to Kawasaki disease. In the UAE, no such case has come to me directly. But the New York precedent is enough to indicate that the virus has a completely different reaction in kids. We are still drawing conclusions and learning. In the meantime, it is better for parents to exercise caution when it comes to their children’s health,” he added.

Tips to parents to keep children disease free

  • Give them regular doses of Vitamin D, C and calcium.
  • Provide them with a balanced and nutritious diet to build good resistance levels.
  • Although it is difficult to make younger children wear face masks in public, parents need to make sure they maintain strict sanitsation protocol, social distancing at school, hand washing etc.
  • Keep them away from too crowded public places, especially avoid peak time at beaches.
  • It is advisable to take them early morning to a public park where children can run and play, soak in the early morning sunshine (between 7am and 8am), get fresh air to absorb Vitamin D. In parks, it is easier to maintain social distancing.
  • Keep them well-hydrated.
  • Make sure you stick to their annual vaccination schedule.
  • Avoid taking them to very crowded public places.
  • Consult your family doctor if you detect the first signs of fever, cough or cold.
  • Be compliant to the medicines prescribed for quick recovery.
  • (Source : Dr Kedar Patnekar)