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More Babies Are Getting COVID-19

Small infant in mother's lap as she wears a face mask.

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Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 infection rates among babies are spiking around the nation likely due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.
  • Young babies still largely experience mild COVID-19 cases.
  • Parents and caregivers should get vaccinated in order to protect young children.

Matt and Bethany Dean from Kansas City, Missouri, recently found themselves in the Children's Mercy Hospital with their three-month-old daughter, Florence. When her fever spiked to 103.5 degrees, their worst fears were confirmed. Florence had COVID-19.

The Dean family is like many in America right now—quarantined and hoping for the best. As the Delta variant spreads widely, more and more families are navigating an increasing number of infections among newborns and young children.

While Matt is vaccinated, Bethany is not. Clear guidance recommending COVID-19 vaccines for pregnant women wasn't released until recently. And since the birth of Florence, Bethany has been overwhelmed with the new responsibilities of motherhood.

After an accidental COVID-19 exposure, Bethany and Matt both developed cold-like symptoms within a few days. Rapid tests came back negative, but they remained quarantined to be safe. As their symptoms worsened, the tests came back positive.

Despite their best efforts to keep their infant daughter safe, she started running a low-grade fever a few days later.

"I called our pediatrician and Children's Mercy a couple of times just to verify since she was running a low-grade temp, but they said that as long as she was still eating well, that she was fine," Bethany Dean tells Verywell. "About a week in, she started getting really fussy and warm, pretty quickly. When her temperature spiked, that's when I took her into the ER."

As her temperature rose, Florence became fussier. But she's evaded any dangerous complications. Emergency room doctors warned that her fever might reemerge in six weeks or so, and a rash may develop. But nothing is certain.

More Babies Are Getting COVID-19

Angela Meyers, MD, MPH, infectious disease division director at Children's Mercy Hospital Kansas City, tells Verywell that as infection rates skyrocket due to the Delta variant, more infants and those under the age of 1 are landing in the hospital—including the intensive care unit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported a recent spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations for children 17 and younger. The number of new admissions started to climb in early July, similar to other age groups.

While rates among infants are rising, Meyers says there currently is no research to indicate that infections by the Delta variant are more severe in infants. Those that have had serious infections may have had underlying issues such as lung abnormalities.

So how are infants contracting the virus? Meyers says the Dean family's experience is what physicians are seeing more and more often. Unvaccinated parents or caregivers are more likely to infect their infants as they provide round-the-clock care.

But They Recover Quickly

Although infant infections are increasing, Meyers says that the effects of COVID-19 on infants are still typically mild.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Because infants can't adequately express many of these symptoms, fever, and changes in breathing or appetite are the best signs to watch out for.

Unfortunately, many of these symptoms overlap with other childhood illnesses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Testing is the only way to identify which illness may be the cause. Meyers emphasizes that any time an infant is in respiratory distress or has a high fever in the first two months of life, they should be checked by a doctor.

Despite an uptick in infant cases, Meyers adds that most babies that are hospitalized recover quickly and are discharged home. So far, there's no research to indicate that infants are prone to lingering COVID-19 symptoms, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children continues to be fairly rare.

But, she emphasizes, it's still always best to avoid hospitalization.

What This Means For You

Infants are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates. While this is concerning, most infants experience mild cases. In order to protect your child, it's essential parents and caregivers get vaccinated. And if your child shows signs of a high fever or breathing issues, contact your pediatrician to discuss next steps.

Parents and Caregivers Should Get Vaccinated

Since vaccination for infants may be years away, Meyers says that making sure the people that regularly interact with your child are vaccinated is crucial.

"One of the most important things that parents can do is get vaccinated before the baby is even born," Meyers says. "We know that moms that are vaccinated during pregnancy transmit antibodies to the baby through the placenta before they are born with is very helpful."

Other than caregivers, parents should carefully consider where they take infants in the first months of life. Since even normal childhood vaccines don't begin until two months of age, Meyers recommends keeping infants out of crowded public places where many people may be unmasked.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker. Updated August 31, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19. Updated February 22, 2021.

  3. Halepas S, Lee K, Myers A, Yoon R, Chung W, Peters S. Oral manifestations of COVID-2019–related multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children: a review of 47 pediatric patients. The Journal of the American Dental Association. 2021;152(3):202-208. doi:10.1016/j.adaj.2020.11.014