This newborn’s recovery from severe COVID-19 shows the importance of early response

It’s been said time and time again at this point, but it bears repeating: there is still so much we do not understand about COVID-19. One of the most misunderstood aspects of the coronavirus is its effect on children and infants. During the early days of the pandemic, it appeared that young children may be mostly immune to the more severe symptoms associated with COVID-19. As more time has passed, though, that theory hasn’t held up

Now, one of the first documented reports of a newborn infant recovering from a severe case of COVID-19 has an important message for the parents of the world. If you notice any symptoms associated with the coronavirus in your child or baby, don’t hesitate to seek medical help. 

Doctors at the McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston were able to successfully treat a three-week-year-old infant in critical condition due to COVID-19. They say the key to their victory against the virus was quickly recognizing what was happening, even before a coronavirus test officially confirmed the infant was infected, and rapidly beginning treatment.

“We are still so early in the research and data available on COVID-19, and as providers, we need to be aware that children can get critically ill from this virus,” says Alvaro Coronado Munoz, MD, first author and assistant professor of pediatric critical care medicine at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, in a university release. “It’s important for parents to understand that they should not delay seeking care for their children if there’s any presence of fever or trouble breathing.”

The baby was first admitted to the hospital with nasal congestion, diminished appetite, and rapid breathing. An initial examination revealed the infant had a temperature of 97 degrees, a high pulse rate, and low oxygen saturation. These initial readings prompted the child to be transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit, and by then low blood pressure and hypothermia were also present. Lung X-rays were taken, showing symptoms typically associated with pneumonia. In short, the newborn’s condition was worsening quickly.

A positive COVID-19 test result from a nasal swab would have taken at least a week to produce a result, so the medical team treating the infant decided to bypass that and start COVID-19 treatment immediately. That decision likely saved the child’s life.

“Our team was called to admit the patient in PICU, and when we saw the X-ray, we were suspicious immediately that it could be the coronavirus. We took early precautions to protect our team and avoid the spread to health care providers,” Dr. Coronado explains. “We thought the child was sicker than the normal child we see. On top of what appeared to be COVID-19, the child also tested positive for the virus that causes the common cold.”

The infant was placed in a negative-pressure room, to minimize the risk of cross coronavirus contamination in the hospital. Then, the baby was intubated and given ventilator breathing support for five days. Typically, a child this young wouldn’t be provided with a ventilator, but again, the treating medical team decided to bypass standard protocol due to their COVID-19 suspicions. The drugs hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were also administered to the child for five days.

After day five, the infant was released from intensive care. By day nine the patient had made a full recovery and was sent home.

“Pediatric ICU has to adapt protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, such as avoiding aerosolized treatments and considering safe intubation measures sooner than the usual,” Dr. Coronado concludes. “While this case is limited to one single patient, it illustrates that severe COVID-19 cases in children can occur, but also be successfully managed,” 

As Dr. Coronado mentioned, this is of course just one patient among the hundreds of thousands being treated all over the world. It’s important to focus on the positives at a time like this, though, and the fact that these doctors were able to save this child’s life is undoubtedly a feel-good story. 

Beyond just that, however, it serves as an essential lesson for all the parents out there as well. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your child is immune to COVID-19, a quick response can make all the difference. 

The full study can be found here, published in The New England Journal of Medicine.