Belfast (United Kingdom)
Cases of children with serious respiratory infections are on the rise in UK hospitals. This includes a nonseasonal increase in an infection called respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and this virus has also been seen in babies as young as two months old. This has led to an increasing number of children being hospitalized for diseases such as bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the lungs (bronchiolitis). Why does RSV, commonly considered a winter illness, increase in the summer of 2021?
Restrictions imposed to stop the spread of Kovid-19 have also stopped other respiratory viruses. Due to the removal of these restrictions in many countries, many respiratory diseases are spreading again. RSV is a common respiratory germ and almost all of us get infected with it by the age of two. Most people have mild symptoms – a cold, runny nose, and cough – of the disease. These symptoms usually go away without treatment within a week or two. About one in three children can develop bronchiolitis from RSV. This causes swelling of the trachea and the temperature of the patients increases and they have difficulty in breathing.
The temperature can exceed 38 degrees Celsius
Sometimes it becomes a very serious illness. If a youngster has severe difficulty breathing, these symptoms can be severe, leading to temperatures over 38 degrees Celsius, blue lips, and difficulty breathing. Due to this disease in children, they may refuse to eat anything, and they cannot urinate for a long time. One month old babies need to be hospitalized because of their shortness of breath. Most cases can be controlled, but sometimes bronchiolitis can be fatal.
About 35 lakh children are hospitalized each year and about five percent of these children die. It appears that very few people contracted the flu in the winter of 2020-21 from Kovid-19 due to hand washing, wearing masks and less people-to-people contact. This is also true in the case of RSV. According to studies, hospitalizations for bronchiolitis were 83% lower in countries of the northern hemisphere compared to previous years. Now, the exact opposite is happening. We do not know why some children with RSV have mild symptoms and others become seriously ill.
One month old baby is most at risk
Several factors have been identified in relation to severe symptoms of RSV, including age (babies one month old are most at risk), sex (men are more at risk than women), environmental conditions such as as exposure to smoke, lung disease and certain things related to genes. Like all infections, it is important to have strong immunity to this disease. We know that neutralizing antibodies protect against serious illness.
However, immunity to RSV is not sustainable, so most of us get re-infected at some point in our lives. This is the reason why despite many efforts, no vaccine is yet available. Some vaccines are being developed for this. Several vaccines are being tested in clinical trials in the hopes that we can protect our children against RSV-induced bronchiolitis.
Author: Grace C. Roberts, Virology Researcher, Queens University Belfast