Doctors believe that when children return home following COVID–19-related lockdowns, common infections that had all but vanished during the epidemic are re-emerging. “This time of year is generally calm in pediatric hospitals,” said Dr. Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal. “However, we’re now witnessing an increase in respiratory illnesses.”
Non-COVID diseases are what Kakkar often sees in the autumn when children are out and about in daycares or schools, she added.
While last year’s public health measures, such as physical separation, masking, and staying at home, were used to stop the spread of COVID–19, they also had the unintended consequence of preventing other respiratory viruses, such as colds, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and human parainfluenza virus, which causes croup.
However, because youngsters haven’t been exposed to such viruses in a long time, they haven’t developed the antibodies that they would typically have and hence won’t have the immunity that they would otherwise have.
“What happened to us is that we didn’t have any exposure,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases expert and microbiologist at Sinai Health in Toronto. “Now that things are returning to normal and kids can see one other, we’re seeing those illnesses [again] in youngsters.”
Most of these diseases will pass on their own, but physicians are especially concerned about an increase in RSV, according to Kakkar. Although it is a common virus, it can cause serious respiratory issues in infants and toddlers that necessitate hospitalization, according to her.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert last month informing healthcare providers that RSV infections were on the rise in certain regions of the country and urging them to test children with acute respiratory symptoms for RSV if COVID-19 was ruled out.
RSV is the most prevalent cause of bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants under the age of one, according to the CDC.