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Children and SARS

Pediatric News Update


Updated March 19, 2007

With the global health warning, travel advisories and all of the news coverage, it is easy to be worried about SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome. SARS is a viral infection caused by a coronavirus, which is also one of the causes of the common cold. And its global spread continues to worry many people.

Classic symptoms include:

  • fever, with a temperature above 100.5 degrees F (>38 degrees C), AND
  • one or more symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, hypoxia, or radiographic findings of either pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome, AND
  • travel within 10 days of onset of symptoms to an area with documented or suspected community transmission of SARS (People's Republic of China (i.e., mainland China and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region), Hanoi, Vietnam, Singapore, and Toronto, Canada) or close contact within 10 days of onset of symptoms with either a person with a respiratory illness who traveled to a SARS area or a person known to be a suspect SARS case
Fortunately, we are not in the middle of cold and flu season, so there are fewer kids with these symptoms that are also commonly found in children with regular viral illnesses.

And kids aren't any more at risk of getting SARS than anyone else. Although the CDC and WHO aren't publishing case counts with the patient's age, there does not seem to be many reports of kids with SARS.

In fact, children may have some protection against SARS. Even in parts of the world where there are a lot of cases, such as China and Singapore, few or none of them have been in children.

There have been some possible cases of SARS in kids though, including suspected cases at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, which has lead to the hospital canceling clinic appointments and elective surgery. There is also a report of a 15 month old girl recently adopted from China in Springfield, Mass. who may have SARS and a 1 year old in New York.

Children seem to be more affected by these quarantines than by actual illness though. Other quarantines include:

  • a Sidney, Ohio school that observed a voluntary quarantine because a teacher and students at the school are the family of a person that has symptoms consistent with SARS
  • 250 students and 10 staff from a high school that is across the street from York Central Hospital in Canada, which had been closed because of a SARS death
  • students in Boston and Greenwich, Conn. who were barred from attending school because they had recently traveled on a school trip to Beijing and Shanghai or had family members that had recently returned from China
Another big concern is families traveling to China to adopt children. Although nonessential travel to this area is discouraged, most parents don't consider traveling to adopt a child nonessential and they continue to go there.

What Should Parents Do

At this time, there is no evidence of community transmission in the United States, so to get sick, your child would likely have to be exposed to someone who had traveled to a SARS area. If you recently returned from a high risk area or were exposed to someone with SARS and you develop symptoms, you should call your Pediatrician and be sure to mention your risk factors for SARS.

Simply being exposed to someone who had traveled to a high risk area but who isn't sick likely doesn't put you at risk.

There is some concern or worry that SARS will continue to spread, but hopefully the aggressive search for a cause and treatment and the quick isolation of suspected cases will keep it from continuing to spread.

Visit our SARS Update Center for the latest news and updates about SARS.

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