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Get urgent medical help if your child is very unwell

Last updated: 25 September 2020 at 4.15pm

When to get emergency help

Call 112 or 999 or go to the nearest emergency department (ED) if your child:

  • is under 3 months old and has a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher, or you think they have a fever
  • has a rash that does not fade away when you press a glass firmly against it (use the 'glass test')
  • has pale, blotchy, blue or grey skin
  • feels unusually cold to touch
  • has pauses in their breathing, has an irregular breathing pattern or starts grunting
  • has severe difficulty breathing
  • is becoming agitated or unresponsive
  • is going blue around the lips
  • has a seizure or fit for the first time (they cannot stop shaking)
  • becomes extremely distressed (does not stop crying) or is confused
  • is drowsy and hard to wake or unresponsive

Do not put off getting medical help if your child is unwell. Your child has a better chance of recovery from any medical condition if they see a doctor quickly.

It is unlikely your child has Covid-19

If your child becomes very unwell quickly with any of these symptoms, it could be for any of a number of reasons.

Illnesses in children include:

It's rare for Covid-19 (coronavirus) to cause severe illness in children, but it can happen. This is why your doctor may need to rule coronavirus out first.

What will happen next

Your child will be assessed by healthcare professionals. They will try to find out what is wrong with your child, and if it is because of Covid-19 or something else.

They will ask you if:

  • anyone who lives with your child is ill
  • your child has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19

If they cannot give your child a definite diagnosis, your child may need a test for Covid-19.

Your child will need to self-isolate from others until Covid-19 is ruled out by either a:

  • different diagnosis
  • negative test result

Self-isolating from others means keeping your child at home, separate from other people. Do not have visitors. Read advice on how to care for a child who has to self-isolate.

Make sure that your child continues to wash their hands properly and regularly and follow hygiene advice around coughing and sneezing.

When to call your GP urgently

Call your GP urgently if your child:

  • is 3 to 6 months old and has a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher, or you think they have a fever
  • finds it hard to breathe and sucks their stomach in under their ribs, the muscles of their neck seem to move as they breathe or their head bobs up and down as they breathe
  • seems dehydrated – for example, nappies are not very wet, has sunken eyes, has a dry mouth or no tears when they're crying
  • becomes drowsy (very sleepy) or irritable and you can not settle them with toys, food, TV or picking them up - especially if this happens after their temperature has come down
  • has extreme shivering or complains of muscle pain
  • is getting worse or if you are worried about their symptoms
  • is vomiting constantly or has severe abdominal (tummy) pain that won’t go away

Your child may be tested for Covid-19

If your child becomes very unwell quickly with any of these symptoms, it could be for a number of reasons.

It's rare for Covid-19 to cause severe illness in children, but it can happen. This is why your doctor may need to rule Covid-19 out first.

Your GP will send your child for a Covid-19 test if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, regardless of your child's diagnosis.

Read advice on what to do if your child has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19

Your child may also need a Covid-19 test if:

  • your GP is not sure what is causing your child to be ill
  • someone your child lives with is ill for an unknown reason

Read advice on bringing your child for a Covid-19 test

What will happen next

Your GP will assess your child and advise treatment based on their symptoms. You will be asked to keep an eye on your child's symptoms in case they get worse.

Your child will need to self-isolate from others until Covid-19 is ruled out by either a:

  • different diagnosis
  • negative test result

Self-isolating from others means keeping your child at home, separate from other people. Do not have visitors. Read advice on how to care for a child who has to self-isolate.

Make sure that your child continues to wash their hands properly and regularly and follow hygiene advice around coughing and sneezing

If your child is not tested and your GP is unable to diagnose their illness, they will be treated as having Covid-19. Read advice on what you and your child will need to do.

Anyone else they have been in contact with should be aware of symptoms of Covid-19 in case they develop them.

Paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS)

A very small number of children who have Covid-19 have needed hospital treatment for an inflammatory syndrome called paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS).

PIMS is a life-threatening disorder caused by an unusual response to an infection by your body's immune system. It is similar to Kawasaki disease or toxic shock syndrome and is very rare.

We don't know if these children developed PIMS because they have Covid-19. It is too early to tell if there is a link.

Children who now need hospital treatment for PIMS are being tested for the virus. This is a precaution.

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