Runny nose, cough, sore throat, fever and breathing difficulties – the classic symptoms of a cold are currently spreading rapidly among the population. The fact that many people fall ill is currently noticeable in many school classes and workplaces.
Before the pandemic, there were regular double waves in winter – now there is a triple wave, according to pediatrician and infectiologist Volker Strenger from Med Uni Graz. In the last two years of the pandemic, the waves of cold caused by RS viruses and influenza, which are otherwise typical of the season, largely did not occur – due to distance rules, mask requirements and lockdowns. Strenger suspects that the current triple wave will continue throughout the winter.
Also influenza epidemic
The virologist Judith Aberle from the MedUni Vienna emphasized to ORF.at that after the RSV the spread of the influenza virus in this country officially reached epidemic proportions last week. Virology at MedUni Vienna is the national observatory for the worldwide Sentinel system for epidemiological surveillance.
According to Aberle, RS viruses have been on the rise for three weeks and have now also reached epidemic proportions. That is “very early”. Aberle did not want to estimate how long the RSV and influenza wave would last. In any case, the intensive virological events will continue “in the next few weeks”.
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There is quasi “good news” for everyone who has been or is being vaccinated against influenza: The A/H3N2 strain is dominant this season, and the circulating H3N2 viruses match the strains imported in the vaccines.
RS viruses particularly dangerous for infants
Aberle and Strenger pointed out that RS viruses in particular are not always harmless for infants, especially in their first winter. They can trigger bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the even finer airways than the bronchi. According to the EU health authority (ECDC), children between the ages of zero and four are particularly frequently affected.
In addition, according to Aberle, there are many rhinoviruses. Aberle and Strenger emphasize that the symptoms of the various infections are the same – so you cannot tell which virus it is without a swab. Aberle therefore recommends carrying out a CoV test whenever possible in the event of symptoms. And she refers to the current ECDC recommendation, according to which children with symptoms should not go to kindergarten or school. This is self-protection and also prevents further spread.
Immunization for children at risk
The last two years had shown that social distancing and wearing a mask protect against infections. But very few would want that. However, Strenger has a specific recommendation ready: Parents with an infant, especially in the six months, should avoid large crowds as much as possible. “If every cold can be an RSV”, you can reduce the risk of infection, even if an infection is of course not dangerous.
Strenger points out that passive RSV immunization is available for children at risk – premature babies or infants with heart defects or lung disease. Although these are generally also approved for healthy children, they are not yet available in Austria.
Consequences for children’s departments in hospitals
According to the pediatrician, the hospital system is already “close to overload” due to the large number of small children admitted to hospital. In contrast to the height of the CoV pandemic, it now mainly affects the children’s and youth departments, even if the dimensions cannot be compared.
The Vienna Health Association also warns in a broadcast on Tuesday of the dangers, especially for small children under the age of one. Babies often have to be admitted to the hospital if they become infected and their breathing has to be supported. At the moment, the children’s beds throughout Vienna are “extraordinarily busy”.
A very similar picture to that in Austria can currently be seen in many European countries and also in North America. The spokesman for the professional association of German paediatricians, Jakob Maske, sounded the alarm on Tuesday.
There is an “accumulation of infections”. Some of the children are “sick around the clock and the parents worry that they won’t get well at all,” said Maske. In the current situation, the same activity in practice is more of a “passage through” than good medicine. The trick is to filter out the really sick children.