Why RSV, flu, colds and other illnesses are hitting kids so hard this year

Why RSV, flu, colds and other illnesses are hitting kids so hard this year

You might think that as COVID-19 becomes less of a threat, we’d all spend less time talking about viruses, testing, and how to prevent the spread of germs.

But it seems like everywhere you turn these days, there are sick kids. Pediatricians care for an endless stream of patients, and children’s hospitals are allegedly filled to capacity.

Despite low vaccination rates among children, COVID-19 is not the main culprit of the current disease glut. The common respiratory viruses that doctors see a spike in each year — RSV, rhinovirus, influenza — are hitting young populations earlier and harder than usual.

We asked pediatricians to weigh in on the current confluence of the virus and what parents need to know.

Why are infections on the rise now?

The measures taken to control the COVID-19 pandemic – social distancing, masking, school closures – have worked. Not only have they prevented children from contracting and transmitting COVID-19, but they have also led to an all-time high in the number of cases of other respiratory viruses, such as the flu. lows.

Recently study published in the journal Chest found that pediatric intensive care admissions for bronchiolitis and pneumonia, potential complications of respiratory viruses, fell sharply between April and June 2020.

“Bronchiolitis had an 80% drop after school closures went into effect,” Dr. Janine Zee-Chengone of the authors of the study told HuffPost u previous interview.

Now that masks are off and classrooms are filling up again, respiratory viruses are experiencing a renaissance.

Parents often notice that when children start daycare or preschool, there is a period of frequent sickness that eventually tapers into a more manageable rhythm. As children build immunity to various viruses, they simply get sick less often. The pandemic disrupted this process.

“It’s like everyone’s starting brand new in the preschool environment now,” Ph.D. Ask Altmanna pediatrician in California who sees patients in her office and works with schools, she told HuffPost.

During the isolation, she explained, “most of the children were not exposed to the common viruses that they would normally contract every year when they were small.”

Children are now contracting these viruses – sometimes consecutively, or even having more than one virus at the same time.

“Experts call it the ‘immunity gap,'” Altmann continued.

Because children have not been exposed to these viruses, “they haven’t built up immunity and it will take a year or two,” Altmann said, before things return to the way they were in the years before the pandemic, when usually only those children who were new to a group setting like school or daycare caught viruses back to back.

There are additional possible explanations for the one virus after another situation that many families are facing.

Ph.D. Mona Amenpediatrician from Florida, said that “viruses mutate” and that there could be “a mutational change that makes these viruses more virulent or more infectious than in years past.”

Children may have worse symptoms than usual because of this viral mutation, and their symptoms may also be worse because of the gap in immunity created by the pandemic.

Before the closures, “most children were already exposed to RSV, either in the womb or through breast milk, in the first two years of life,” Altmann said. “So if they caught it when they were older, they wouldn’t get so seriously ill. Now they don’t have the primary antibodies, so they’re getting sicker and sicker.”

There’s also the expected seasonal rise in respiratory illnesses, which Amin says generally runs from October to April. But the numbers are currently higher than usual.

“We are seeing an increased spread of the virus than in October before the pandemic,” Amin said.

at least one virus, respiratory syncytial virusor RSV, made its debut earlier than usual this year, with infections starting to rise in the spring and summer instead of waiting for the fall.

Factors such as “weather, indoor activities, back-to-school, viruses that thrive in temperature changes, a still-developing immune system and a post-pandemic world” have conspired to make this year particularly difficult for children and parents, said Amin.

What viruses do children get and what symptoms do doctors see?

In addition to RSV, which usually causes only mild cold-like symptoms but can lead to respiratory problems in young children, the potpourri of current circulating viruses includes rhinovirus (or the common cold), influenza, parainfluenza, and COVID-19.

Although most people will not become very ill or require hospitalization when sick with viruses such as RSV, they cause strain on the health care system and other disorders.

“Unfortunately, kids get sick every other week,” Altmann said. “They miss school a lot.”

In addition to more hospitalizations, the increase in the number of patients means that doctors are seeing more problematic symptoms.

“I get a lot of calls about children who have a persistent cough for two weeks,” Zee-Cheng said earlier. “Children who have never hissed before are hissing. They have this cough that just goes on and on.”

Although most of these diseases cause mild symptoms in most people, parents should be on the lookout for any signs that their child is having difficulty breathing. This can include their abdominal muscles working so hard that their ribcage is visible, their nostrils flaring as they inhale, or, in infants, grunting with each breath. If your child has any of these symptoms or other signs of breathing problems, they should see a doctor right away.

How has the pandemic changed the way we deal with viruses?

Another post-pandemic development is related to testing. Before, if you brought a sick child into the doctor’s office, they would simply diagnose a respiratory virus and send them home to treat with fluids and rest – unless they had breathing problems, of course, in which case you were probably headed to the hospital. hospital.

Doctors now have the ability to use in-office testing to determine exactly which virus—or even viruses—is causing your child’s runny nose and cough.

“I have a BioFire rapid respiratory panel PCR machine,” Altmann said. “So they can actually identify most of the infections that patients have.”

While knowing which virus your child is infected with may not change the course of treatment, Altmann says parents often like having that knowledge.

Plus, she said, it “helps schools know what’s going on.” With more information available, “we’re learning a lot about viral patterns in our community,” she added.

In addition to accelerating the current surge of viral diseases and forever changing the way we deal with epidemics, the pandemic has shown us which strategies are most effective in controlling respiratory viruses.

Altmann, for example, talked about advising teachers to rearrange desks so students don’t face each other in groups to slow the spread of the virus. In other situations, it might make sense to have a child’s mask for a few days to keep the virus at bay, or to have children who have tested positive for the virus mask when they return to school.

Such measures “can really help kids stay in school and minimize kids bringing it home to their families,” Altmann said.

At the end of the day—or, rather, at the end of this very long cold and flu season—building children’s immunity will bring these common infections back to their normal levels.

“It will take a year or two for us all to return to normal winter cold and flu patterns,” Altmann said.

How can I keep my children healthy?

As always, frequent hand washing and disinfection of touch-sensitive surfaces – such as doorknobs – can slow the spread of infection.

It is also important to keep your children home from school when they have a fever or other significant symptoms.

“This is the time when they should be resting and when they are at their peak of infectivity,” Amin said. “We all want to do our part to help reduce the spread.”

Although there is no vaccine against RSV yet — although trials vaccines given to pregnant women have been shown to be effective in passing on immunity to babies – there are flu and COVID-19 vaccines.

Vaccinating your children against these diseases reduces the risk of disease and slows the spread of the disease in the community, thereby offering protection to those who need it most, such as infants too young to be vaccinated, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

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