Seek urgent help if your child becomes unwell


The Public Health Agency (PHA), the Health and Social Care Board and a senior paediatric consultant are urging parents and carers to be vigilant of other childhood illnesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and are reassuring them that help and support is available for those who need medical attention.

Dr Joanne McClean, Consultant in Public Health Medicine with the PHA, said: “We know that parents want to do the very best they can to protect and care for their children. While it is essential to be aware of and follow the guidance associated with COVID-19, it is also important that parents trust their instinct. If you feel your child is unwell and needs medical attention, please seek help.

“The number of children attending GP surgeries and hospital emergency departments is lower than normal. While many children will be receiving appropriate care and treatment at home, we do not want parents to be put off bringing their children for medical attention because they are concerned about overloading the service or afraid that their child may come into contact with COVID-19 in a healthcare setting.

“Robust infection control procedures are in place in HSC settings to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19.

“While children can become sick as a result of COVID-19, the experience across the world has been that the illness is not common in children and most will not become seriously unwell if they contract it.”

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature);
  • and/ or a new, continuous cough 

Dr Karl McKeever, Clinical Director at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, added: “While people are aware of COVID-19 at the minute, it is important to remember that children are still at risk of becoming sick for other reasons. For example, sepsis and meningitis are rare, but can cause life-threatening illness, especially in younger children. Children can also develop other illnesses – some of which can be serious, such as rapid onset of type 1 diabetes. Do not delay seeking medical help and advice.

“GP and hospital services for children are still open and there for sick children. If you are worried about your child please seek medical advice from your GP in the first instance. If you are advised to attend the GP or to take your child to hospital, please don’t delay. Dial 999 in an emergency.

“Some serious warning signs to look out for include any child who is breathing very fast, has a ‘fit’ or convulsion, or looks mottled, blush, or pale, or has a rash that does not fade when you press it. If you see these signs, this is urgent. Any baby or child under five years old who is not feeding, is vomiting repeatedly or hasn’t had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours needs to be assessed by a paediatrician or specialist children’s nurse.

“Symptoms consistent with COVID-19 could also be caused by other illnesses, and while it can be difficult to tell when a baby, toddler or child is seriously ill, the main thing is to trust your instincts. You know better than anyone else what your child is usually like, so you'll know when something is seriously wrong.”

Signs of serious illness in a baby or toddler

  • a high temperature, but cold feet and hands, a high temperature that does not come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen a very high or low temperature, your child feels hot or cold to touch, or is shivering or your child is quiet and listless, even when their temperature is not high’ rapid breathing or panting, your child is finding it hard to get their breath and is sucking their stomach in under their ribs
  • blue, pale, blotchy, or ashen (grey) skin
  • a rash that does not disappear when doing the glass test
  • your child is hard to wake up, or appears disoriented or confused
  • your child is crying constantly and you cannot console or distract them, or the cry does not sound like their normal cry
  • green vomit
  • your child has a febrile seizure (fit) for the first time
  • your child is under 8 weeks old and does not want to feed
  • nappies that are drier than usual – this is a sign of dehydration

For more information see

Don’t take risks with a sick child.