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Respiratory virus can spread after Covid rules relaxation

Ayoola Oyinloye, the Chief Medical Officer (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

At least 33 children aged 5 and under were so far this year infected by a respiratory virus that may have spread more quickly after Covid-19 public health measures were relaxed.

Ayoola Oyinloye, the Chief Medical Officer, said there was a group of children whose immunity is lower because they were not exposed to the respiratory syncytial virus.

In total, there have been 55 confirmed RSV cases in 2022, including in four people aged 65 and over.

A fact sheet from the Ministry of Health explained that RSV “is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms”.

It added: “RSV is most common during fall, winter and spring.”

Dr Oyinloye said: “The measures that protected Bermuda from Covid-19 also shielded us from other respiratory viruses like the respiratory syncytial virus.

“With the relaxation of public health measures globally, these viruses can spread more quickly.

“In Bermuda, we have a cohort of children who have lowered immunity because they have not been exposed to this virus, which spreads easily in this population.

“The most vulnerable to the effects of these viruses are preterm children and children with immune-suppressing illnesses. These children should see their paediatricians.”

A ministry spokeswoman added that adults were also affected by RSV and those aged 65 and older may be at risk of severe infection.

She said: “To date, for 2022, there have been 55 cases of respiratory syncytial virus reported in Bermuda.

“Of these, 11 were reported in October, the highest number of cases reported since March, when 11 cases were also reported.

“All other months have ranged between zero and six cases.”

Confirmed RSV cases by year

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health said that annually, confirmed reports of RSV varied.

She added that the fluctuations “may be related to true prevalence or testing practices”.

Confirmed RSV reports by year:

2012 – 11

2013 – 38

2014 – 34

2015 – 9

2016 – 8

2017 – 24

2018 – 43

2019 – 19

2020 – 66

2021 – 35

2022 – 55

Figures provided by the Government showed that confirmed cases of RSV ranged between eight and 43 in the years from 2012 to 2019.

There were 66 cases in 2020 and 35 in 2021.

Bermuda’s first Covid-19 cases were confirmed on March 18, 2020 and varying degrees of public health measures were adopted.

The health ministry spokeswoman added: “For RSV, the average number of cases from 2012 to 2016 was 20, and the average for 2017 to 2021 was 37.”

She said: “To protect yourself and others from RSV infection, wash your hands often, keep your hands off your face, avoid close contact with sick people, cover your coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect surfaces, stay home and keep children at home when you/they are sick.”

The ministry’s fact sheet pointed out that almost all children will have been infected by RSV before their second birthday.

It added: “RSV can spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You can get infected if you get droplets from the cough or sneeze in your eyes, nose or mouth.

“Additionally, it can spread through direct contact with the virus, like kissing the face of a child with RSV.

“RSV can survive for many hours on hard surfaces such as tables, crib rails and doorknobs. You can become infected if you touch a surface that has the virus on it, and then touch your face before washing your hands.

“People infected with RSV can usually spread the virus for three to eight days. However, some infants, and people with weakened immune systems, can continue to spread the virus even after they stop showing symptoms, for as long as four weeks.”

The guidance said that symptoms of the virus included runny nose; lower appetite; coughing; sneezing; fever; and wheezing.

It added: “In very young infants with RSV, the only symptoms may be irritability, decreased activity, and breathing difficulties.

“RSV can also cause more severe infections such as bronchiolitis, (an inflammation of the small airways in the lung), and pneumonia, (an infection of the lungs).”

The fact sheet said: “Most RSV infections go away on their own in a week or two.

“Call a doctor if you or your child are having difficulty breathing, not drinking enough fluids, or experiencing worsening symptoms.

“The doctor will diagnose and evaluate how severe the RSV infection is and whether hospitalisation is needed. There is no specific treatment for RSV infection.”

The health ministry spokeswoman was unable to say how many cases resulted in hospital admission but added that the Bermuda Hospitals Board “should have the information”.

The BHB was asked on Monday if the organisation could say how many RSV cases were admitted to hospital but the information was not provided by press time.

An alert on the Government portal, updated yesterday, said: “The Epidemiology and Surveillance Unit continues to receive reports of fever and respiratory symptoms (Covid-19, common cold, parainfluenza, RSV, human metapneumovirus, strep throat, influenza) and Gastroenteritis (Campylobacter, E.coli).”

A notice on the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website highlighted: “CDC surveillance has shown an increase in RSV detections and RSV-associated emergency department visits and hospitalisations in multiple US regions, with some regions nearing seasonal peak levels.

“Clinicians and public health professionals should be aware of increases in respiratory viruses, including RSV.”

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Published November 10, 2022 at 10:09 am (Updated November 10, 2022 at 10:09 am)

Respiratory virus can spread after Covid rules relaxation

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