Infections among children are quickly dissipating. The physical distancing and hygiene rules introduced following SARS-CoV-2 infection seem to have produced positive effects. But could there be other consequences we should also consider?

The closure of schools in many countries, the introduction of masks and other forms of preventive hygiene and physical distancing have caused a predictable effect on the spread of the most common infectious diseases, especially those respiratory in nature.

It’s American research that affirms this and has recently been published in the scientific journal “Pediatrics”. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have evaluated respiratory infections in a sample of 375,000 children — so therefore quite significant — in early 2020, in the middle of a pandemic. The same assessment was made on a similar sample during the same time in 2019 (i.e. in the absence of the Coronavirus).

The study and comparison were made on the 12 most important infections: otitis media, bronchiolitis, common colds, laryngotracheobronchitis, gastroenteritis, influenza, streptococcal and non-streptococcal pharyngitis, pneumonia, sinusitis, skin and urinary tract infections.

All the pathologies showed a clear decrease in the cases in 2020, thanks to the physical distancing between children and the most stringent hygiene standards. The greatest decrease was observed among respiratory infections. For example, influenza decreased by 99.5%, laryngotracheobronchitis by 96.5% and bronchiolitis by 92.9%.

These numbers may immediately make you think that introducing “extreme” distancing measures (what Italian children are experiencing today) as normal, may be of benefit, even regardless of the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

How can we deny that the near elimination of the most common infections in children is of great benefit to children, parents, schools, and society in general?

There would be clear positive effects on school attendance, less impact on the health-care system and reduced parental absences from work.

So all in all, SARS-CoV-2 has also brought something good with it! On the other hand, this data must be interpreted with a stronger critical eye, a broad view, and above all, we must not forget that the human being is part of a large, complex ecosystem and doesn’t live in isolation from nature; even if some people try to secure every square inch that surrounds them.

“Extreme” distance as a solution to infectious diseases

Let’s go back to the question: would it be of benefit to introduce “extreme” distancing as a “regular life practice” for children? In my opinion, no. I’ll try to explain it, using two main points.

Firstly, the American research data is certainly reliable, but in my opinion, they have a bias, as they say in scientific terms, that is — they don’t take into account that during the lockdown, many parents, due to the impossibility of going to the pediatrician, didn’t communicate the health status of the child and therefore treated him or her at home. Therefore, the percentages mentioned in the article could be lower, perhaps not so much, but they would be better statistically assessed, considering the total number of children who were visited in the same time and compared to the number of those in the comparative study.

Secondly, and much more importantly, is the excess sterility to which we could expose our children to by isolating them from their peers (but also from the rest of the world) for many hours a day during the school period. Our immune system adapts to the environment in which we live; from birth, from the moment we’re born and our mother offers us the first “meal” of microbes. During growth, we come into contact with mouth, nose, ears with many microorganisms that stimulate our immune system to develop defenses (i.e. antibodies that we will need to recognize the same or similar microorganisms in the future). Therefore, limiting the possibility for our children to develop the maximum possible variability of antibodies therefore means weakening them and not preparing them to live in the world and nature of which we’re all part.

Maintaining some hygiene standards acquired during this pandemic period, such as washing your hands more frequently, wearing (adults) a mask when you have a respiratory disease and you can’t stay at home, doing Home Office when you have a respiratory infection, but you’re able to work, will certainly help to reduce the spread of infections. It’s also true that we must not forget that we’re part of a large and complex ecosystem — and having our children live under glass doesn’t prepare them for their future.

Nothing can be taken for granted when discussing infections from microorganisms; SARS-CoV-2 represents the ultimate expression of this and has spread this newfound awareness, even among non-experts.

This post is also available in: Italiano

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