San Jose, Dec 19 (EFE).- Children in Latin America are currently facing a triple threat of respiratory viruses, of which respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is attacking newborn babies with force, causing health officials to urge extreme preventive measures and avoid exposing children to crowds.
Health experts call the phenomenon a “tripledemic” consisting of RSV, COVID-19, and seasonal flu, which is causing an increase in hospitalizations of children and has even caused hospital services to be saturated at certain times this year due to high peaks of cases.
The first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which educational centers in the Latin American region were closed, forced parents to keep children at home and limit their social interaction.
CHILDREN NOT EXPOSED TO OTHER VIRUSES
While this measure was intended to protect children and their families, it also caused children not to be exposed to other viruses and not develop the respective defenses.
Lydiana Ávila, a pediatric pulmonologist at the National Children’s Hospital of Costa Rica, told EFE that the situation has caused the number of children susceptible to RSV to be higher.
“Respiratory syncytial virus is a virus that circulates and affects children under two years old in all countries. By four years old, 90% of the pediatric population has antibodies against respiratory syncytial virus, which they acquire in their first years when they are infected or when the mother passes antibodies to the babies in the uterus or through breastfeeding,” Ávila explained.
The specialist said that of 100 children who become ill with RSV, five generally require hospitalization.
“However, this year we have seen something atypical and the data will be retrospectively extracted because there is a larger number of susceptibles who did not get sick in 2020 and 2021,” Ávila said.
In November, the director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, warned about the “triple threat” of respiratory viruses in the region and emphasized the importance of preventive measures and vaccination.
More than 100,000 children under five years old died in 2019 from respiratory infections associated with this virus worldwide, 97% in middle or low-income countries, according to official data.
PREVENTION AND TREATMENT
The tripledemic affecting the Latin American region can be confronted by parents by resuming the preventive measures that were applied against COVID-19.
Martha Herrera, director of the Fiquires foundation in Colombia, explained to EFE the importance of preventive measures and of the population becoming aware of the risk that newborns less than a few months old face of developing a serious illness due to RSV.
“Mothers must wash their hands at all times and also avoid visits where there are newborns or premature babies until the children are six months old, and constantly use masks for the protection of minors,” she said.
Herrera commented that children under five years old are suffering from aggressive respiratory difficulties, including admissions to intensive care units throughout the region.
PROMOTING HIGH-IMPACT CAMPAIGNS
Herrera called on the governments of Latin America to join forces to promote high-impact campaigns like those against COVID-19, in relation to RSV.
As for treatment, pulmonologist Avila said that there is no cure or vaccine for RSV, but there is a treatment with monoclonal antibodies to protect infants, although its application depends on the health policies of each country.
The monoclonal antibody Nirsevimab (Beyfortus, AstraZeneca) is the only antibody approved by the US FDA to help protect high-risk infants from the virus. EFE