“The feeling we have is that, suddenly, the children are all becoming sick at the same time.”
These are the words of doctor Joana Martins, one of the child-health experts interviewed by Expresso for an article about how the pandemic’s confinement and preventative measures have weakened the immune system, making us (all) more susceptible to diseases.
“The effects are most obvious in children,” whose immune systems are still developing.
Children must come into contact with dirt (or, to put it another way, germs, microorganisms, and viruses in general) to develop immune systems that will last the rest of their lives, Portugal Resident reported.
According to doctor Mário Cordeiro, “all the sanitary measures necessary in a pandemic” have resulted in a substantial reduction in this vital contact, causing babies and toddlers to become extremely “vulnerable.”
Ironically, society’s youngest members—those born during the pandemic—are now at risk from a respiratory virus (VSR) that could be far more dangerous to them than SARS-CoV-2.
While SARS-CoV-2 infection in children seldom progresses to any significant form of COVID-19 (Chinese Communist Party virus or CCP Virus), VSR can cause acute bronchial infections that may necessitate hospitalization.
And this is exactly what has begun to happen.
According to Expresso, Alberto Caldas Afonso, a pediatrician with 40 years of experience, has “never seen anything like it in the Centro Materno-Infantil do Norte: many children with respiratory infections, in some cases very serious, being admitted to hospital every day during high summer, a time of year when traditionally A&E departments are much calmer.
“The unusual affluence over the last few weeks has taken pediatricians all over the country by surprise, and this is happening throughout Europe and in the United States,” says the paper. “The phenomenon is what various specialists have already dubbed “weakened immunity,” a state of greater fragility in bodily defences indirectly caused by the pandemic.”
Dr. Ricardo Jorge of the public health institution confirmed this year’s “higher than normal number of positive cases of VSR” among children. It’s a virus that generally affects babies in their first year of life, but many toddlers are only now acquiring it. due to the lockdown last winter
“If we hold children back, we’re delaying their contact with viruses that are unavoidable in the construction of their ‘immune library’. This is what has happened”, Joana Martins of Lisbon’s pediatric Hospital Dona Estefânia tells Expresso.
“In the end, with confinement we delayed the inevitable. The truth is we have a group of children under the age of two now who have a long way to go in terms of new infections. And they all seem to be keeping step with each other….”
Mário Cordeiro compares the children’s circumstances to that of “greenhouse plants” (not as robust as plants that have grown naturally).
It would be good if exposure to VSR and other bacteria currently could quickly toughen up the country’s youth, but doctors are concerned.
“If they are getting sick now, at a time when there are less viruses in circulation, specialists fear the size of the wave of infections that could arrive in the autumn/ winter” when many more viruses are around, and people spend more time in enclosed spaces “facilitating contagion.”
In England, there are already concerns that the colder months will see an increase of 20% to 50% of children with respiratory disorders requiring hospital treatment. Authorities have “doubled” the number of intensive care beds as a result of this.
Countries in the southern hemisphere (where it is currently winter) are being closely monitored. For example, New Zealand has seen “several hospitals convert surgical blocs into pediatric wards to respond to the number of admissions,” according to the report.
Mário Morais de Almeida, a clinical immunology specialist, summarizes the issue as follows:
“The first two, three years of life are defining for the construction of the immune system. Right now there are children of two years old who have lived practically their entire lives in a pandemic. They have had very little contact with pathogenic agents than would have happened before, thus, as normality returns, they are going to catch anything and everything – at least until they can recover the delay in creating their own defences”.
This winter, older children, teens, young adults, and adults will be similarly vulnerable, as their immune systems have been allowed to become “flabby” due to all the protective measures in place, leaving them with less capacity to react when life returns to normal.
This autumn/winter, according to Mário Morais de Almeida, will be a time when many additional infections will be circulating, and people will need to utilize their intellect.
He forecasts that if they “abandon” all means of protection from one day to the next, there would be a major crisis. It’ll be akin to expecting a swarm of couch potatoes to jump up suddenly and (attempt to) run a marathon.
Pediatricians merely hope that the winter of 2021/ 22 will be enough to bring the immune systems of the children who have missed so much in this veiled and sanitized world up to speed.