An unusual increase in winter viruses is landing children in hospital in the middle of summer.
Illnesses include severe colds, croup, which causes a severe cough, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.
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The increase is worrying for doctors already overwhelmed as the school year approaches. Not only do they expect a greater spread of winter viruses, but they also anticipate an increase in Covid cases among younger students. Virtually all primary school-age children, that is, those under the age of 12, are not vaccinated, and some school districts have already stated that they will not need masks in classrooms. class, regardless of vaccination status.
“We are all preparing for what is coming this respiratory season when the kids return to school,” said Dr. Kristin Moffitt, infectious disease physician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
The viruses that are now circulating are spread mainly through respiratory droplets vomited when a person coughs or sneezes, although some, like the virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease, pass from person to person through the body. unwashed hands.
RSV can be especially dangerous in young children and babies because it can lead to pneumonia and bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small airways in the lungs.
“Normally you just don’t see RSV at all in the summer,” said Dr David Kimberlin, co-director of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But the increase in these infections in June and July “overtook our worst winters in terms of RSV hospitalizations,” he said.
Dr Buddy Creech, an expert in pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, has seen a similar increase in non-seasonal viruses.
“Our children’s hospitals are busy, mainly because of the winter viruses which have come back in force,” he said.
In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention alerted doctors to the spread of RSV, particularly in southern states. Kimberlin said her pediatric intensive care unit was almost running out of beds due to the influx of RSV cases.
The team had to activate additional teams of medics to stay afloat. “Everything was on the bridge,” he said.
As RSV cases start to decline in the south, there are early signs that the virus is moving north.
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Dr Sean O’Leary, an infectious disease physician at Colorado Children’s Hospital, said he was seeing a “big increase” in RSV cases.
Other viruses, normally seen in winter, also land children in hospital this summer, including enteroviruses and parainfluenza 3, which causes croup.
“We see cases of bronchiolitis, which is what RSV typically causes, but we see it with the other viruses,” O’Leary said.
And the Covid still remains a threat to children. According to the latest report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, around 130 new Covid-related hospitalizations in children have been reported since July 8.
It is not entirely clear why typical winter viruses appear during the summer. O’Leary, who is also vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, suggested that one reason is that the distancing and masking guidelines “are slowly but steadily easing. There is a lot more mixing between people than there has been. “
Kimberlin agreed. “These viruses thrive on social interactions,” he said.
The repercussions of the atypical winter viral season of 2020-2021 could last until the next season.
“Everything has been turned upside down by the pandemic,” said Dr. Bernhard Wiedermann, infectious disease specialist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC “It’s going to be difficult to predict what will happen with the flu and RSV and others things in the fall and winter. “
CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky warned of the likely increase in illness among schoolchildren on Tuesday during testimony at a hearing with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and pensions.
“These kids haven’t been to school. They haven’t been together. I’m worried about upper respiratory infections,” Walensky said, adding that coronavirus testing will be critical in determining whether symptoms are due to Covid-19 or another virus. .
Doctors expect an increase in Covid cases in young children, for whom there is no vaccine yet.
“I think we would be unwise to think that as the pandemic progresses children will not continue to be affected because they are not yet vaccinated,” Creech said.
“We need to focus on the most vulnerable people around us,” he said. “For now, these are our children.”
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