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Family pediatricians should be first line of defense for COVID concerns

Aug. 11, 2021, 9:25 AM


by Jessica Pasley

As the more contagious delta variant of COVID-19 spreads, impacting children, pediatricians at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt say there are steps parents can take to help keep their children safe.

They advise parents to look to their family pediatricians for guidance rather than bring their child into an emergency department (ED) for testing.

“It is always best to call your pediatrician for direction,” said Joseph Gigante, MD, professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital. “Many people immediately want to bring their child to the emergency room, but that is not always the best plan. A pediatrician should be the first point of reference because they know the child and can better advise parents on next steps.”

While it is not always easy to decipher COVID symptoms from an upper respiratory illness, Gigante said if a parent suspects their child may have the fast-spreading virus or even been exposed, try not to hit the panic button.

Gigante offers the following guidelines for parents about when to go to an ED for treatment if a child is experiencing:

  • Breathing difficulty or is in distress
  • Severe headache or muscle aches
  • A high fever causing a change in behavior

“Over the last week or so, we are definitely testing more children and getting more positives with the majority of cases being asymptomatic, requiring an at-home quarantine, not hospitalization.”

Gigante said pediatricians are reporting different symptoms in children, including gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. He said the loss of taste and smell also seem to be specific to COVID and should be a sign for parents to seek out a visit to the pediatrician. Symptoms of COVID may include new cough, difficulty breathing, fever (greater than 100.4), chills, congestion/runny nose, sore throat, headache, muscle pain and fatigue.

Additionally, he noted that following public safety health measures is the best way to reduce risk of infection and transmission of the disease, particularly for children not yet eligible for vaccination.

“Children younger than 12 years old are not able to receive the vaccination,” he said. “We all need to create a protective shield around them. If you are not vaccinated, get your shot. Although not the most popular, have your child wear a mask to school and keep them home if they are sick.”

Gigante pointed out that in addition to COVID, an unseasonal surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as well as other childhood illnesses and summertime trauma cases are keeping Children’s Hospital busy.

While a pediatrician should be the first point of contact, Children’s Hospital has several after-hours clinics that can assess a sick child, with locations in Hendersonville, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro, Brentwood, Smyrna and Spring Hill.

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