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No hugs for Granny, you could infect her

29 March 2020 - 00:02 By SIPOKAZI FOKAZI
Sintuntu Tshandana with her grandson in Browns Farm in Philippi.
Sintuntu Tshandana with her grandson in Browns Farm in Philippi.
Image: Esa Alexander

Since retiring as a domestic worker five years ago, Sintuntu Tshandana, 69, has been looking after her two grandchildren full-time and is a day mother to three other children.

“I’m helping my daughter, who works full-time, and caring for my neighbours’ children helps supplement my state pension,” she said.

But child health and infectious disease experts warned this week that elderly people such as the Philippi, Cape Town, grandmother should avoid children in a bid to lower their chances of catching Covid-19.

Professor Heather Zar, head of child health at the University of Cape Town, said children face a low risk of dying from the virus. But because they are potential transmitters, they should not be with their grandparents.

It’s a big fear. We have many informal settlements and much overcrowding. If Covid-19 is established and transmitted in these settings, it can be very serious.
 Head of paediatrics and the infectious diseases unit at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg HospitalProfessor, Mark Cotton

“Children seem to be getting infection but not developing disease, or they develop mild disease. The most important message is that young children can transmit the virus to elderly people such as grandparents, so wherever possible keep young children away from the elderly, and definitely no hugging, kissing or even touching,” she said.

The World Health Organisation says the elderly and people with conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and respiratory problems “appear to be more susceptible to becoming severely ill with the virus”.

Zar said strong intergenerational interactions in Italy, which has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 deaths, might have driven the severity of the pandemic.

Paediatricians are even more worried by the socioeconomic challenges facing South African children, with malnutrition, HIV and tuberculosis weakening their immune systems.

Professor Mark Cotton, head of paediatrics and the infectious diseases unit at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital, said while the virus seems to affect children mildly in other countries, in SA it could prove fatal.

“It’s a big fear. We have many informal settlements and much overcrowding. If Covid-19 is established and transmitted in these settings, it can be very serious,” he said.

“Where one can limit contact, it’s worthwhile,” he said.

“For instance, children should not visit grandparents in retirement homes. Any limitation of movement will be good to curb the spread.”

Tshandana, who was not aware of the risk children posed to her health, said staying away from her grandchildren would be difficult.

“We’ve grown so close over the years. It looks like this virus is going to cause havoc in our society and is splitting families,” she said.


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