How to spot common illnesses during cold and flu season

Though they have some symptoms in common, here’s how to tell the difference between COVID-19, the flu and the common cold.

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Where to go when your child is sick

If your child is sick or injured, it is important to know where to take them for care. Learn what can be treated at a pediatric urgent care center and a pediatrician's office.

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Updated as of September 12, 2023

COVID-19 is a coronavirus that first began affecting people in 2019 and quickly spread worldwide.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that commonly infect animals but can infect humans, too. They usually attack the upper respiratory tract—nose, sinuses and throat. The coronaviruses get their name from the crown-like spikes on their surface, visible under a microscope (“corona” means crown in Latin). Some types of coronaviruses cause mild, cold-like symptoms, while infections from coronaviruses like SARS or MERS can be more severe.

Scientists continue to learn more about this virus called SARS-CoV-2, a coronavirus that causes a disease known as COVID-19.

What does COVID-19 mean for kids and teens?

Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or have no symptoms at all. However, some children can get severely ill from COVID-19, especially babies under 1 year old and children with underlying conditions.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Reported symptoms of COVID-19 have ranged from very mild to severe and even fatal. COVID-19 in most healthy children is mild and does not require hospital care.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • Fever that is not responsive to fever-reducing medications
  • Cough
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Refusal of liquids with decreased urine frequency
  • Crying without the ability to be consoled
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Behavior that is not normal for your child

Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to someone with COVID-19. In children, the most common symptoms are fever and cough. 

When should my child see a doctor for COVID-19 symptoms?

Most children with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and can safely recover at home without seeking medical care. If your child has concerning symptoms, call your doctor or pediatrician to discuss next steps before going to a hospital, emergency department or urgent care.

Note: If your child has a fever or cough, we highly recommend that your child stay home until the fever and other symptoms are gone for 24 hours. Staying home while sick protects your friends, loved ones and members of your community, some of whom may be at higher risk for illness.

If your child is having difficulty breathing, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Covid 19 and your child

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away.

What do I do if my child is exposed to COVID-19?

If your child is exposed to someone who has COVID-19, he should follow the CDC’s quarantine and isolation guidelines. In addition, monitor your child closely for symptoms of COVID-19.

When should my child get tested for COVID-19?

The following should be considered before taking your child to get tested for COVID-19:

  • Does your child have symptoms of COVID-19?
  • Has your child had close contact (within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) with someone who has confirmed COVID-19?
  • Has your child’s pediatrician or school recommended that your child be tested?

As we continue to gather more information about COVID-19, some medical recommendations may change. But the basics remain: Get vaccinated—including boosters, wear a mask, stay home if you or your child is sick, wash your hands and maintain a safe distance.

It’s important that we all work together to protect ourselves and our communities from severe illness.

The virus that causes COVID-19 usually spreads through respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes between people who are close together. People who are infected but do not have symptoms can also spread the virus to others.

The most important things you and your family can do to help slow the spread of COVID-19 are to get vaccinated and follow the three Ws:

  • Wear a mask.
  • Wash your hands—use soap and water for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The best way to avoid infection is to avoid exposure. Here are a few things you can do to lower your risk of catching or spreading illness:

  • Get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after touching tissues. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you are sick, unless you or your child need medical care.

Families are encouraged to plan and make decisions that will help protect members of your household during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recommend that your family:

  • Gather up-to-date information about local COVID-19 activity from public health officials.
  • Create a list of organizations you can contact in case you need access to healthcare providers, support or resources, in addition to family, friends, neighbors, carpool drivers, teachers and employers.
  • Consider family members who may be at a greater risk, such as individuals with a serious underlying medical condition.
  • Choose a room in your home that can be used to separate sick family members from others.
  • Take everyday steps to prevent the virus, such as keeping surfaces disinfected, washing hands and avoiding sharing personal items.
  • Watch for symptoms in healthy family members.

Older adults and any others with certain serious underlying medical conditions like lung disease, heart disease or diabetes are at a higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19. They should seek care as soon as symptoms start.

Delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. If travel is necessary, we recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol before you leave and when you arrive at your destination.
  • Try to maintain 6 feet from people who do not live in your household.

Caring for someone who has COVID-19 in your home can help stop the spread of the virus and protect those who are at risk for developing serious symptoms from COVID-19. We recommend:

  • Staying home and avoiding being around others as much as possible.
  • Keeping the ill person in a separate room and away from others in the household. This includes having them use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Closely monitoring the health of the person who is sick to make sure symptoms don’t worsen.
  • Preventing the spread of germs by:
    • Disinfecting surfaces every day that are often touched, such as countertops, tabletops and doorknobs.
    • Washing hands often.
    • Washing laundry thoroughly.
    • Avoiding sharing personal items like dishes, towels and bedding.
    • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Having both the person who is sick and anyone who is in contact with him or her wear a face mask.
  • Providing symptomatic treatment, such as keeping the sick person hydrated and making sure he or she has access to over-the-counter medicines that may help with symptoms.
  • Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and its academic partners were selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help fast-track COVID-19 diagnostic testing at the onset of the pandemic. Today, our researchers continue their work in COVID-19 diagnostic test verification. Additionally, physicians from Children’s and Emory participated in a clinical trial testing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 6 months to less than 12 years.

    As one of the nation’s leading pediatric research institutions, Children’s is well positioned to lead the way in this vitally important research. Every day, many of our clinicians and researchers are pushing forward with research that will lead to better understanding of and new treatments for this virus.

    Learn more about our COVID-19 research efforts.