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With COVID-19 spreading quickly, the number of infections among children has been increasing — with most having been infected by a family member.

In cases where the whole family is infected, they may have to rely on food delivery services to survive, and children are being forced to miss school or kindergarten classes for over a month.

When children become infected with COVID-19, they tend to be asymptomatic or experience only mild illness, and can recuperate at home. But medical experts are becoming increasingly concerned that the spread of new, more contagious variants may cause some children to become seriously ill.

In one case in Kitakyushu, a 37-year-old man, his wife, 26, and his two sons were each infected in turn over a period of about three weeks from the end of April.

The man, who had a fever of 40 degrees Celsius and other severe symptoms, was hospitalized.

His wife, who had a slight fever and fatigue, could have recovered at a designated hotel or been hospitalized. But she chose to stay at home, given that her younger son needed to be breastfed every two hours and her eldest son was asymptomatic.

“My infected wife had to take care of a four-year-old and a one-month-old by herself,” said the man, who runs a company in Kitakyushu.

For about 10 days, she was unable to go shopping at all. While nursing her second son — who at one time had a fever of over 38 C — she managed to get by with food delivery services and preserved food.

“I couldn’t leave my infected children with our elderly parents,” the man said. “If my wife had also been seriously ill, there would have been nothing we could’ve done.”

A one-month-old baby infected with the coronavirus in Kitakyushu. With the whole family infected and the father in hospital, the mother had to care for the baby and their four-year-old son alone while also trying to recover. | COURTESY OF THE FAMILY / VIA NISHINIPPON SHIMBUN
A one-month-old baby infected with the coronavirus in Kitakyushu. With the whole family infected and the father in hospital, the mother had to care for the baby and their four-year-old son alone while also trying to recover. | COURTESY OF THE FAMILY / VIA NISHINIPPON SHIMBUN

In another case, in January, a nurse, 37, in Fukuoka Prefecture, recuperated at a hotel when all six members of her family were infected over different periods of time.

She chose to have her five-year-old son, who attends kindergarten, recover at home. Her husband, 41, and mother, 65, who had already recuperated at the hotel, were able to take care of her sons, but the boys had to miss five weeks of elementary school and four weeks of kindergarten, respectively.

“Those days were like hell,” she recalled.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, the nationwide total of infected people age 19 or under as of May 19 was 70,989 — 10.4% of the total across all age groups — and had increased by more than 45,000 in about four months.

In Fukuoka Prefecture, 2,495 people age 10 to 19 and 1,034 people under 10 had been infected as of May 20, accounting for 11.1% of the total.

According to a report by the ministry’s research team, more than 75% of the 491 cases involving people age 19 and under between January and April had contracted COVID-19 from family members at home.

In April, the city of Kasuga in Fukuoka Prefecture sent supplies to families who said they were running out of diapers for their children, as problems related to home recuperation snowballed.

Hotels in the prefecture for people with mild or asymptomatic cases do not provide food for infants and toddlers, and as a rule only those age 4 and over are admitted. Twin rooms are reserved for parents with children, but they are small for young children.

“Families with children age 4 and over often choose to stay at home,” said Dr. Yoshinori Yokokura, who had been dispatched by the prefectural medical association and was on duty at the hotel.

According to Dr. Noriyuki Kaku, who is responsible for deciding where to hospitalize infected children at the Emergency & Critical Care Center of Kyushu University Hospital in the city of Fukuoka, nearly 20 infected children had been hospitalized in the prefecture since the start of the fourth wave of infections, accounting for less than 10% of all cases.

“Most of the children hospitalized are there because their parents’ symptoms worsened and they had nowhere else to go,” Kaku said. “And most of them had only mild illnesses. But there were some children under 10 who were hospitalized because of their lowered immunity due to underlying diseases, which could have made them seriously ill.”

Toshiyuki Ishimaru, vice president of Japanese Red Cross Fukuoka Hospital, expressed concern. “If the number of infected people increases, like now,” he said, “children with underlying diseases will be more susceptible to infection and may become seriously ill.”

As a general rule, children age 10 and under must be accompanied by their parents when hospitalized. But if a child becomes infected, families may have to tackle a series of problems, such as who will accompany the child or how they will take care of uninfected siblings.

“I would like to urge parents to take thorough measures to avoid bringing the disease into their homes,” said Ishimaru, an infectious disease expert.

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published May 22.

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