WASHINGTON — Cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19 are up 32 percent since two weeks ago, prompting medical authorities to send new texts to pediatricians and health facilities in multiple states, the CDC reported Monday.
At least 5,540 people have had COVID-19 infections since the summer in 19 states — the majority in Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, and Arkansas — and three counties in Missouri. It’s primarily an illness affecting children less than 3 years old, with 9 percent of the cases in younger than 3 years old.
The virus is caused by a bacteria and spread primarily when an unvaccinated child, often with the help of an infected family member, sneezes or coughs into their eyes, nose, or mouth. In children, the symptoms typically include sore throat, watery or bloody eyes, a cough that won’t go away and a sore throat. The illness tends to last about three days but can be far more severe for children with chronic lung or heart conditions, premature babies, and children with asthma. There are also cases of bacterial meningitis and pneumonia.
Symptoms often start with coughing, runny nose, and a fever, but some children may have a sudden increase in their temperature, go floppy or appear hallucinatory, according to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC.
Symptoms usually appear to be gone about 48 hours after the first bout of coughing and sneezing, and there’s little risk of it spreading when it does, Frieden said. But the symptoms could get so severe that parents should pull a child out of school and take them to a physician, he said.
The most common type of antibiotic used to treat the illness is gentamicin, which can be effective for 15 to 24 hours in patients with respiratory infections and typically needs to be mixed with a powdered alcohol to be effective.
One “major issue” with COVID-19 is that it can spread through everyday breathing and sneezing and can spread among multiple people, the CDC said. In fact, between eight to 15 percent of the infected children end up with a change in direction that leads to them breathing in some of the aerosol particles, which can then be inhaled back out into the air. This may lead to anaphylaxis or inflammation of the stomach or esophagus, both of which can lead to death.
Though cases can be spread between two people through something as small as a sneeze, most of the infections are isolated to one person, Frieden said.
The CDC isn’t issuing an advisory, but they are taking actions as warranted, he said. “We have a solution but we want to make sure everyone knows there is a solution,” Frieden said.
Overall, the number of cases of the illness has decreased by 42 percent in recent weeks, but Frieden said that doesn’t mean the infections are over, especially in places where the cases continue to increase.
With assistance from Amy Walter.