COVID symptoms in babies and kids

COVID symptoms in kids and babies are similar to those in adults. The difference is that children typically have milder symptoms.

COVID symptoms in kids and babies can include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Fever or chills
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (less common) 
  • No symptoms at all (asymptomatic)

Many coronavirus symptoms are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses, such as the flu, so it can be hard to tell whether your child has COVID-19 or something else. However, COVID-19 is more likely if your child:

  • Experiences loss of taste or smell (this doesn't occur with the flu)
  • Was recently exposed to someone who has COVID-19

Learn more about how to tell whether your child has a cold, flu, or COVID-19.

If you think your child may have COVID-19 or you're worried about their symptoms, call your child's doctor immediately.

Is COVID dangerous in babies and young children?

In most cases, no. It's very rare for babies and children to be hospitalized or to die from COVID-19. While people of every age are at risk of complications from coronavirus, so far it has proven to be most severe to the elderly and those with preexisting illnesses.

Still, over 7 million children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 – just over 17 percent of all cases – and about 770 children have died from the virus. Researchers are still collecting data to find out whether the virus has any long-term physical, emotional, or mental health effects on children. 

Children with underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for serious complications from the coronavirus. Scientists are still trying to understand which conditions put children more at risk, but they may include obesity, medical complexity, severe genetic and neurological disorders, inherited metabolic disorders, sickle cell disease, congenital heart disease, chronic kidney disease, asthma and other lung diseases, and having a suppressed immune system such as from taking certain medications.

A very small percentage of children and teens exposed to COVID-19 have developed a dangerous illness called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). Researchers are working to fully understand which children are more at risk for developing MIS-C. More than 5,900 children across the U.S. have been hospitalized with MIS-C, and 52 have died. 

The symptoms of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) include:

  • Fever lasting 24 hours or more
  • Stomach pain, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Neck pain
  • Chest tightness or pressure
  • Rash or change in skin color
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Inability to wake up or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

Call your child's doctor or an emergency care provider immediately if your child has any of these symptoms, and let them know if your child has recently tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone with the virus.

If you live in the United States, your family's risk of being exposed to coronavirus is directly related to the rate of transmission in your immediate community. Cases of COVID-19 and community spread are being reported in all states. 

Rising vaccination rates could stem the increase, but public health officials remain concerned about the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants – such as the Delta variant and Omicron variant. Many states have loosened masking and physical distancing restrictions, and more and more people are traveling in the U.S., making it easier for variants to circulate.

There are several maps available to help you pinpoint COVID-19 case locations. Among the clearest is the New York Times map based on CDC data.

What should I do if I think my baby or child has COVID?

Stay home and call the doctor for medical advice if you, your baby, or toddler:

  • Develop coronavirus symptoms, and/or
  • You think you've been exposed to the virus (for example, if you've recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 is spreading, or you've been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19).

It's important to call ahead so your healthcare provider can take steps to prevent others from becoming infected or exposed to the virus if you or your child need to go into a clinic or doctor's office for an appointment or testing.

Call 911 if you or anyone in your family are experiencing the following symptoms:
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

How can I protect my baby or child from COVID?

While we wait for vaccinations to become available for all ages, it's important for your family to keep taking the same precautions recommended throughout the pandemic when out in public or around unvaccinated people.

Although children are less likely than adults to get severely ill from COVID-19, they can still spread the virus to others who may be more vulnerable. The Omicron variant is more transmissible than even other serious strains like the Delta or Alpha variants, for children. For this reason and others, cases among children are rapidly increasing, with the number of cases rising week after week.

To protect your baby or child from COVID-19, take these precautions:

Wearing a mask: The CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated (including children under 12 who can't be vaccinated yet) keep wearing masks in indoor public places. (Kids under 2 years old do not need to wear masks.) The CDC now also recommends that even those who are vaccinated wear masks in public indoor spaces in parts of the country where infection rates are rated substantial or high. You can check the level of transmission in your area on the CDC's COVID-19 map

Hand washing: Encourage children to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. (If you don't have access to soap, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. The AAP recommends supervising children under the age of 5 when using hand sanitizers.)

Social distancing: Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Minimize playdates, or at least limit socializing to a couple of children or families. Consider organizing outdoor playdates, such as walks or bike rides, to reduce chances of infection. If you hire a babysitter, try to choose someone who is vaccinated and boosted, and isn't around many people other than your family. Keep in mind that people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.

Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces: These include tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, handles, light switches, toilets, and sinks.

Keep your child up to date on vaccines: This will reduce your child's risk of getting other serious illnesses and spreading them to others. Use our immunization scheduler.

Check to see what measures your child's daycare, preschool, or school are taking. Health officials recommend masking for everyone in schools, whether or not they are vaccinated. (Not all states are mandating masks in schools, however.) The CDC provides schools with recommendations about ventilation, testing, quarantining, cleaning, and disinfection. 

It's important to take as many precautions as you can to protect your child. Studies show low transmission of COVID-19 among school kids when prevention strategies are in place, even when physical distancing can't be achieved.

When can babies and kids get the COVID vaccine?

Kids ages 5 and up are now able to get the COVID-19 vaccine. And Pfizer and Moderna are both conducting clinical trials on the safety and efficacy of their vaccines on even younger children. There's no certain timeline for when the vaccines will be available for those under the age of 5, because it depends on the results of the trials. However, given the pace of the research, vaccines are expected for this age group in 2022. If your child is 5 or older, it's recommended they get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible. And for those ages 12 to 15, the CDC now recommends a Pfizer booster shot 5 months after their original vaccine series is complete. 

And, in addition to protection from severe illness related to the virus itself, new data from the CDC suggests children and teens 12 and older who receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, are also significantly less likely to develop MIS-C, a rare, but dangerous illness that can develop as a result of a COVID infection. 

Find out more about COVID vaccines for kids.

Is it safe to visit relatives who've had the COVID vaccine?

Yes. As long as your relatives have had all doses of the  Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and their booster shots, and have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks, you can visit them or invite them over without needing to wear masks or stay physically distant.

The vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness from COVID-19. If someone in your family had a coronavirus infection and spread it to a vaccinated relative, the relative would most likely have very mild symptoms, similar to a cold.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautions that unless everyone is fully vaccinated, you should keep these gatherings small – just your household and that of one relative. And if someone in your household is unvaccinated and at high risk for severe COVID-19, physical distancing and masking is still recommended.

With more transmissible variants now circulating, if you're worried about traveling or visiting others, it may be best to stay home. Or, you could have everyone in your family get a PCR test prior to traveling or stock up on FDA-approved at-home antigen tests. If using at-home tests, experts recommend testing 72 hours prior to travel and again on the morning of your trip, with a minimum of 24 hours between tests.

As always, if anyone in your family is sick, wait until they've recovered before gathering with relatives, as you or your kids could still spread other germs.

Learn more:

5 hand-washing tips for kids

Is it safe to use hand sanitizer on babies?

Immunizations for children: What you need to know

COVID anxiety in moms is at an 18-month high