Doctors have urged parents not to overreact to the coronavirus outbreak after seeing a rush of children with minor ailments.
Hospitals said many mothers and fathers brought youngsters in for check-ups – some even demanded medical certificates officially clearing their children.
The UAE has seven confirmed cases of coronavirus, six of them Chinese citizens. More than 37,000 cases had been confirmed worldwide as of Sunday.
Dr Anuradha Ajesh, a paediatrician at Bareen International Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said staff have seen a sharp increase in children with colds and flu. She has personally seen about 10 parents daily, each concerned about their child.
“They are worried, asking about the disease, and want a medical certificate [clearing the child of the virus],” Dr Ajesh said.
Dr Franson Jose, a consultant paediatrician at Aster Clinic in Dubai’s Discovery Gardens, has seen the same.
“More patients have come in with seasonal illnesses like the flu. There has also been an increase in parents requesting flu vaccinations for their children,” he said.
Some parents said they have kept away from crowded areas, even though doctors and the government said there is little cause for concern.
Claire Emma Summer, a company managing director in Dubai, said she has become cautious when taking her three-year-old son out.
“I’m constantly wiping his hands and watching what he’s doing,” she said.
“I’m a real worrier regarding these things, so I would rather be on the side of caution.”
Ms Summer sends wipes with her son when he goes to the nursery and diligently monitors his temperature.
Lina Best, a Jordanian personal trainer in Dubai, has also avoided taking her three-year-old son to crowded places.
“Right now, I’m only sending him to the nursery and limiting [his playtime] in parks and play areas, but he’s still going to play dates,” she said.
“I’m not sure if that even helps limit exposure. I’m so confused on what to do or not to given the lack of information so far.”
Ms Best ensures her son eats immunity-boosting food, has supplements, carries sanitiser, bathes when he is back from school and washes his hands frequently.
A new study published in the international medical journal JAMA states that "the median age of patients is between 49 and 56 years," suggesting children are less susceptible to infection. Findings in The New York Times last week said children may have a milder form of the virus.
Dr Nosa Aihie, regional medical director at International SOS, a medical and travel services company, urged parents not to overreact and to instead carry on with their day-to-day lives.
“This is a new virus and there are a few unknowns. I would tell parents to take precautions,” Dr Aihie said.
“It is better to avoid crowded areas but there is no need to keep children at home.
“The government is taking precautionary action, so there is no need to panic.”
The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak rose to more than 800 on Sunday. The number of deaths has exceeded the 774 killed worldwide during the 2002-03 Sars epidemic.
More than 37,000 people have been infected by the new strain, which is believed to have originated in a market selling wild animals in the central city of Wuhan last year before spreading across China.
Professor Peter Piot, who was among the doctors to discover Ebola and HIV in Africa, has suggested Wuhan coronavirus poses more danger than Ebola.