It’s almost the end of the year, the holidays are fast approaching. That means winter is here, and, unfortunately, it’s winter flu and cold season!
While we want to keep our kids healthy, there is a surge among young children suffering from Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu ramped up early in many parts of the country.
While this may sound worrisome to parents, kids getting sick is not anybody’s fault.
Experts say that the possible reason for this surge is that people were not exposed to these viruses for years during the pandemic which resulted in what we call the "Immunity Gap".
What is an Immunity Gap?
An immunity gap is developed when the body's immune system does not encounter a mix of common pathogens such as microorganisms, viruses, and other pathogens that cause illness for some time.
We are exposed to different pathogens in our usual outdoor activities like when we go to work, buy groceries, eat at a restaurant, and so on. Being exposed to these pathogens helps our immune system prepare to fight infectious diseases.
But, during the pandemic, our exposure to pathogens decreased as the government mandated public health protocols, such as social distancing, working from home, and masking up to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This made our immune system less prepared now that public health precautions are loosening up.
A better example is, it's like we are running a marathon, but haven't trained for it in two years. Our immunity is similarly out of shape.
Who are most affected?
Since there hasn’t been a global pandemic in recent history with data we can refer back to, it’s not totally clear who are the most affected by the immunity gap. However, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the immunocompromised and infants may be harder hit this year than in previous years.
Older people with weaker immune systems may be more vulnerable to these infections. It’s not clear whether other immunocompromised individuals are affected more than they otherwise would be since their risk is already higher than a typical healthy person.
On the other hand, there may now be young children who are immune to wintertime illnesses. While research shows that mothers pass immunity to the fetuses during pregnancy, if the mothers were not exposed to the pathogens during pregnancy, she might not have the antibodies to RSV, flu and other viruses to pass along causing infants to be more vulnerable.
What can parents do?
The good news is, our body’s immune system is still there! For as long as we don’t have a condition that tamps it down, it will always protect our body!
Kids getting sick are not the parent's fault. What parents can do is get their children loads of sleep, eat a nutritious diet, and exercise. Stay up to date on vaccinations and take other precautions. There is no shortcut to boosting an immune system, but doing these would help support your child’s immune system.