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Scientists believe that a pandemic ‘immunity deficit’ is likely to be responsible for the surge in RSV cases

Lockdowns, physical distancing, and wearing masks have all helped to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the past two years. These viruses, which include the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, return to full force as people go back to work and school.

Scientists believe that the “immunity gap”, which has existed for the past few years, is likely to be responsible for the “unprecedented” surge in RSV infection this year. It also may have thrown other seasonal respiratory viruses out of control around the globe.

Rachel Baker, an assistant professor at Brown University and epidemiologist, said that “as long as there’s been a record for RSV and another respiratory disease in the United States,”.

RSV is a virus that causes illness in children and young people every year. Baker explained that it then disappears for the spring/summer and comes back the next winter. It’s predictable and very consistent.

It will be until it isn’t.

The number of cases of RSV in the United States rose in spring and is now at 60%.

The number of flu cases in the US has increased a bit earlier than normal. Some schools have experienced large absences and medical offices report that they are seeing more patients with other respiratory viruses.

Similar patterns have also been observed in respiratory infections like parainfluenza, adenovirus, and rhinovirus in other parts of the world.

Scientists believe that the pandemic’s unprecedented actions had unimaginable effects.

Other viruses were also stopped by Covid interventions

“The extent of social changes that took place with the Covid pandemic is truly unprecedented in modern times,” stated Dr. Kevin Messacar (associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital Colorado).

RSV and flu are spread by droplets that are released into the air from coughing or sneezing. Droplets can also remain on surfaces such as doorknobs or light switches for hours.

The people who cleaned surfaces and washed hands, who wore masks, did more than stop the spread.

Baker stated that while Covid-19 spread was limited, the interventions also prevented the spread of other respiratory diseases like RSV and influenza.

Studies have shown that there was an unexpected drop in RSV hospitalizations and RSV cases in the seasons 2020 and 2021. There were also unusually mild flu seasons.

Baker stated, “It was striking.”

As Covid-19 vaccines became more widely available, people began to return to school and work again and started interacting with each other without wearing masks. They started to share germs. Pandemic behavior created an “immunity deficit” or “immunity credit” that made more Americans vulnerable to diseases such as RSV.

Understanding the immunity gap

When they are exposed to viruses, children develop natural immunity. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV is most common in children under 2 years old. Mothers pass antibodies to their babies through breast milk, which provides some passive protection.

For a few years, however, RSV was not an option for those born during the pandemic, or for the people around them. Their immunity declined or was never developed. They were more likely to contract illness when they and their parents began to interact with other people.

“Decreased exposure of endemic virus created an immunity gap – a group susceptible individuals who avoided infection but lack the pathogen-specific immunity necessary to protect against future infections,” Messacar & Baker said in a commentary published in The Lancet.

Hospitals are warned by them to be flexible to deal with unpredictable seasons of respiratory illness.

Messacar stated, “We knew it was certain that these diseases would return.”

Commentary warned of an influx in infections, which would include older children who haven’t been exposed as well as infants whose mothers weren’t able to pass on antibodies as they hadn’t come into contact with viruses.

Baker stated, “Now we are seeing it spreading well.” It’s not only striking children with the first birth cohort. It can also cause infections in older children.

She explained that infectious diseases are a complex process. “Once there are more cases, more cases create, and this is how you get this spike.”

Messacar and Baker don’t believe this early-season RSV pattern is permanent. However, it may take some time for the cycle to reverse to its more predictable form.

Baker stated that although we are currently in a somewhat unusual period, I believe we will see regular outbreaks in the next few decades – depending on how Covid is handled. It could throw off the seasonality caused by other viruses if the coronavirus becomes severe enough to warrant additional lockdowns.

Messacar stated that viruses such as the flu have many variables.

RSV is not preventable. However, there is the flu vaccine. If enough flu shots are given, it could help to avoid an increase in RSV cases.

Scientists are still working on an RSV vaccine but it will not be available in time for this season.

What you can do

There are steps you can take to stop RSV from spreading. They’ll be very familiar.

Always wash your hands. Keep surfaces that are frequently used clean. Instead of putting your hands on your face, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow. Get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet to boost your immunity. When you are sick, wear a mask. And most importantly, if you’re sick, stay home.

Baker stated that non-pharmaceutical treatments work and the more we can keep the cases of any virus down, the better.

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