How easy is it for infants to catch the coronavirus?

As three British babies catch coronavirus within a week – how easy is it for infants to catch the disease?

  • Three British babies have this week tested positive for COVID-19
  • Experts say children and babies are less likely to catch the virus than adults 
  • Infants that contract the virus have only mild symptoms in the majority of cases  
  • Doctors do not know what makes children less susceptible to the virus 
  • To date there have been no reports of children dying from COVID-19
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Three children have caught the coronavirus in Britain in the last week, but health experts still believe infants are at low risk of contracting the virus. 

Doctors say the data reveals infected children are far more likely to have no symptoms than they are to develop a severe case of COVID-19.  

The infant infections this week were revealed to be a newborn baby in London, a nine-month-old infant in Manchester and a baby in Norfolk.

Scientists do not know what makes children less susceptible to the virus and there have been no reports of children dying from COVID-19.   

Myroslava Coates said she took her son Cassian (pictured) to see a doctor in Manchester on Monday after he developed a fever, and they were told he had tested positive for COVID-19

Cassian Coates had a fever and cold for a number of days so his concerned parents, Myroslava and Callum, took the infant to hospital. Pictured, the mother, son and father from Manchester 


Chinese health officials carried out the biggest ever study on the never-before-seen strain of the virus, using data from 72,000 cases.

Results showed the SARS-CoV-2 virus posed the greatest threat to older patients and those with underlying conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. It also revealed the exact breakdown of the cases that had been confirmed.












416 (0.9%)

549 (1.2%)

3,619 (8.1%)

7,600 (17.0%) 

8,571 (19.2%)

10,008 (22.4%)

8,583 (19.2%)

3,918 (8.8%) 

1,408 (3.2%) 

And what about deaths? 












0 (0.0%)

1 (0.1%)

7 (0.7%)

18 (1.8%) 

38 (3.7%)

130 (12.7%)

309 (30.2%)

312 (30.5%) 

208 (20.3%) 

Of reported cases in China, the epicentre of the virus, only 2.4 per cent of cases occurred in children, and only 0.2 per cent involved critical illness. 

To date, the country has recorded more than 80,000 cases. 

Professor Russell Viner of the UCL Institute of Child Health and president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told MailOnline: ‘What we know about the novel coronaviruses, including COVID-19, is children are at very little risk of infection.

‘Children probably catch it as much as adults but most children either have no symptoms or incredibly mild symptoms.

‘If children do catch catch the virus, most do not get any symptoms. 

‘Most of those that do develop symptoms only experience mild effects, such as a slight fever, some aches and pains and a bit of a cough.

‘What we are not seeing from all the available data is children going onto ventilators or expressing other severe symptoms.’

Symptoms of COVID-19 in infants appear to be milder than in adults. However, the children are able to pass it on to other people and act as carriers.

‘This is a new virus and we do not know enough yet about how it affects children or pregnant women,’ said Unicef. 

‘We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected with the virus, but so far there have been relatively few cases of COVID-19 reported among children.’   

Scientists are currently baffled as to why children and adults respond differently following infection from the novel coronavirus.

It has been found that risk of death from COVID-19 increases with a person’s age, as does the likelihood of severe symptoms developing. 

‘Old people, their bodies have just taken more bruising over the years of living on this planet,’ said infectious disease expert said Dr David Kimberlin.

‘Their lungs might be less flexible than a child’s lungs. They just get more sick from various pulmonary illnesses.

‘My guess is that children are infected with this virus and they just handle it better because their bodies are more resilient,’ he told US News.   

Normally, children are more susceptible to getting sick than adults. The NHS says it is normal for them to get eight or more colds a year.  

Doctors say it is possible newborns are more at risk of showing symptoms than older infants as they may not have built up a strong enough immune system.  

However, in a study published in Frontiers in Pediatrics, it was found babies born by C-section may be less likely to catch coronavirus than those born naturally.  

Health officials at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston, Norfolk (pictured) said a baby is among three new cases of coronavirus identified in children. All patients are now being treated in isolation


Dr Aaron Milstone, a paediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, advises parents to teach kids to wash their hands regularly.

That is in line with government guidelines and includes using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. 

He says: ‘They can help keep track of time by singing the ABCs, which takes about 20 seconds to finish.’

Children should wash their hands after using the bathroom, sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose, before eating (even snacks) and immediately after coming inside from playing outdoors. 

If a child refuses to wash their hands, Dr Milstone recommends giving them a small reward, such as a sticker, when they do so. 

Parents and adults setting a good example by washing their own hands is a good way to also encourage children to wash their hands.  

Twelve infants born by C-section in Wuhan had no symptoms of the coronavirus despite all being born to infected mothers, scientists found.

It is known babies can be exposed to viruses in the vaginal canal and C-sections could reduce the risk. 

‘To avoid infections caused by perinatal and postnatal transmission, our obstetricians think that C-section may be safer,’ study author Yalan Liu said. 

‘Only one pregnant mother adopted vaginal delivery because of the onset of the labour process. The baby was normal. Maybe vaginal delivery is OK. It needs further study.’      

Analysis of the SARS-COV-2 virus reveals it is spread from person to person via droplets of bodily fluids, such as those expelled via a sneeze or cough.   

Dr Aaron Milstone, a paediatrician at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in the US, says: ‘Children are exposed to COVID-19 when the virus contacts their eyes, nose, mouth or lungs. 

‘This usually occurs when a nearby infected person coughs or sneezes, which releases respiratory droplets into the air and onto the child’s face or nearby surfaces such as tables, food or hands.’

Experts advise that although children are less at risk of catching the virus and developing symptoms, it is still important they wash their hands extensively. 

Last weekend a baby was being treated for the infection at North Middlesex Hospital where it was born, and the mother was moved to a specialist infections hospital 

According to the CDC, if a child is healthy, there is no need for them to wear a facemask.

‘Only people who have symptoms of illness or who are providing care to those who are ill should wear masks,’ the US body states. 

Dr Milstone adds that there is currently no vaccine, so parents should do everything they can to protect children from getting it.

In an article for his university’s website, he writes: ‘Though much more is yet to be understood about the new coronavirus, COVID-19 seems to have less serious health consequences for children than for adults, which is encouraging news. 

‘Still, it is important to avoid infection among children and help prevent the virus from spreading. Families with children can work together to reduce the risk.’

Professor Viner says parents should be reassured that it is unlikely their children will get the disease but the other message is that they can spread the disease.

‘The big problem is contact between children and grandparents and, as well as following Public Health England (PHE) guidelines, it may be necessary for children to be in limiting contact with the over-70s and other at-risk groups.’ 


What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

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