There is a sudden spike in respiratory disease among children in many parts of the world.
Vismita Gupta Smith, the WHO Communications Officer spoke with Dr. Wilson Were, Senior Medical Officer, Child Health Lead Expert, WHO, about the causes of this spike.
Below are excerpts:
Dr. Were: We are seeing a spike in respiratory disease in children particularly those under ten years of age, beyond the typical flu season we usually experience during the fall and winter months. This unusual spike in cases has been reported in several countries in Europe, including France and Netherlands and the United Kingdom and also the United States. They are seeing an increase in number of children hospitalized with acute respiratory infections caused by common respiratory viruses such as influenza, parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus, commonly called RSV, adenovirus and coronaviruses, including COVID-19.
In addition, we are seeing increasing cases of pharyngitis and skin infection caused by the bacteria called group A cryptococcal infection. This may be because we are back to relative normalcy after COVID-19 and seeing viruses spread again. May be some children, did not have prior infections, so don’t have any built in immunity.
Or maybe some of the viruses just changed a little bit and seem to be spreading faster.
Maybe some children are getting multiple infections, so becoming sicker than usual.
So it could be any of these reasons as we try to figure out which particular one.
What are the symptoms? What are the symptoms and red flags for parents? How can we protect our children from these infections?
Dr. Were: Typically, children will have cold or flu-like symptoms with a runny nose or nasal congestion, sneezing with scratched throat, irritating throat, a cough, and some might have a fever or change in their ability to eat or drink.
In most cases, parents or caregivers can manage these symptoms. However, in some cases, it may be associated with Group A Streptococcal infection. In this case, children will have a sore throat, a headache, muscle pains and a fever along with a fine reddish rash, which is called scarlet fever.
But watch out for the red flags, worsening of these symptoms specifically if your child is breathing too fast or have trouble breathe with the upper tummy getting sucked in which we call chest in drawing or when the lips or skin are turning blue or when the child is constantly running a high temperature or throwing up or is unable to breastfeed, drink or eat.
And in the case of Group A Streptococcal infection, they have painful skin and bones.
Then you know it’s time, to immediately consult a health provider or go to the hospital.
What can parents do to protect their children from these diseases?
Dr. Were: There are three things can do to protect their children. First is to practice good hygiene. Cover your mouth and nose with a mask or tissue.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Cough in your elbow or sneeze in your elbow. Throw away your used tissues immediately and wash your hands. Wash your hands regularly with soap and or use a hand sanitary or use a hand sanitary.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. The second thing is to keep up to date with child’s vaccination, including for influenza and COVID-19.
The third thing is breastfeeding if your child is breastfeeding because breast milk is protective against these viruses in young infants.