Coronavirus (COVID-19) and GI symptoms in kids

At the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, our team provides specialized care for digestive diseases in kids of all ages. We want to help you understand what you need to know about COVID-19 and your child’s gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Is diarrhea a symptom of COVID-19 in kids?

Although we don’t hear about diarrhea as much as the more common signs of COVID-19 — fever and respiratory symptoms (i.e., runny nose, difficulty breathing) — diarrhea is seen in a number of children and adults with the disease. But remember, diarrhea can be due to many reasons, such as stress, something you ate, etc. There’s probably no need for concern unless your child has diarrhea in addition to the other COVID-19 symptoms.

What should parents know about coronavirus prevention in kids with digestive diseases?

Parents who have a child with a chronic gastrointestinal (GI) condition, such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or liver disease, may have heightened concern related to COVID-19. Some of this is justified, but the most important thing to remember is the importance of thorough handwashing. COVID-19 can be transmitted through stool, so it’s extremely critical to practice good hand hygiene when changing a diaper and after going to the bathroom.

If you have a child with a chronic GI illness, he or she should stay on their medicines. There has not been any evidence that Remicade, or the other medications that help regulate the immune system, put an adult or child at a higher risk for COVID-19. So don’t stop taking them. This could cause the GI disease to get out of control, which could raise the risk of contracting COVID-19.

What do I need to know about MIS-C and GI diseases?

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition unique to children where different body parts can become inflamed, including the gastrointestinal organs, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, skin or eyes. The cause of MIS-C is yet to be determined; however, it is likely an excessive or inappropriate immune response related to a recent infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 within four weeks before MIS-C symptoms occurred. There are a variety of symptoms associated with MIS-C including fever, severe illness, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Like with COVID-19, stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea alone are not symptoms of MIS-C; however, if your child has been exposed to COVID-19 and is presenting GI symptoms out of the ordinary, contact your pediatrician.

When should parents call a child’s doctor about coronavirus symptoms, GI symptoms or both?

As always, if your child is on one of the medications that affect your immune systems, and develops a fever, diarrhea or a significant cough, get in touch with your physician team. Many issues can be resolved over the phone or through a telemedicine visit, preventing the need for a hospital visit.

Comer Children’s patients can contact the pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition team at 773-702-6169 or through remote second opinions program.

Ruba K. Azzam, MD

Ruba Azzam, MD, MPH

Ruba Azzam, MD, MPH, specializes in pediatric hepatology, gastroenterology and nutrition, including hepatobiliary diseases, liver transplantation, pancreatic disorders and more.

Learn more about Dr. Azzam
Ritu Verma

Ritu Verma, MD

Ritu Verma, MD, is a highly respected pediatric gastroenterologist who provides care to children suffering from complex gastrointestinal conditions, and serves as the Medical Director for the UChicago Medicine Celiac Disease Center.

Learn more about Dr. Verma