By Christine Westerhaus

Many children have not been fully immunized against other illnesses because of Corona. It could be a problem. (picture alliance / dpa / Themendienst / Christin Klose)

Wearing a mask has long controlled viral illnesses such as the flu and gastrointestinal flu. They are now more common again and doctors expect a flu season with more patients.

“Pediatricians are very busy right now and have their hands full, parents of small children too.”

Henriette Rudolph is a pediatrician at the University Hospital Frankfurt am Main and a mother herself. The new type of coronavirus has spoiled the daily life of hospitals even in summer, said the vice-president of the German Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. However, people did not come to the clinics with corona infections. They were infected with other pathogens.

“Normally you have a summer crisis, where the emergency rooms are really less active. But we certainly don’t see this summer crisis, we see overwhelmingly more infections. Resident pediatricians are also overrun with parents of children. sick. Because now all of them are going through whole viral infections, also more GI tract and so on, which didn’t exist at all, and we will definitely see that. “

Because the blockages, but also the requirement for masks, not only kept the novel corona virus under control last fall. Flu viruses or other infectious agents, which normally make their rounds in daycares and schools in time for fall, have been kept out. However, that doesn’t mean they are gone. They just tried their luck later: in the spring and summer, when public life picked up and people got to meet again.

“Overall, we now have an increase in all possible, non-specific viral infections that we hadn’t seen in months before, all of which are happening now, as fewer masks are worn. And that looseness persists.”

The immune system of healthy people is flexible

However, these non-specific viral infections are not dangerous. And healthy people’s immune systems are flexible. She also gets along when she is now undermined by all the germs that were rare during the pandemic, explains virologist Klaus Stöhr, former head of the influenza program of the World Health Organization, WHO.

“The immune system is certainly capable of dealing with several pathogens. I have no doubt that there are some very good studies as well.

However, the flu expert expects flu viruses to hit particularly hard this fall.

“There has never been a situation like this, but I have been assessing the global influenza situation for many years and, based on my prediction, there will be an intense influenza year this year. Why ? Because the normal over the past 16-18 months. the immune situation was not boosted. Viruses were almost completely absent.

Virtually no contact with influenza viruses

Last fall and winter, the immune system was barely able to cope with influenza viruses and build immunity against them. Influenza pathogens are therefore more likely this winter to overcome the body’s defenses and make more people sick, explains Klaus Stöhr.

“What has obviously not happened yet is that a new variant is circulating. It would be really dramatic now, because the vaccines for the current fall vaccination have already been produced.”

Influenza viruses usually mutate quite often, which is why flu shots need to be readjusted every year. However, immunologists currently fear that infections with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, are on the rise. Because these can be especially dangerous for babies. In France and Switzerland, more and more people are already infected with this virus. This happens particularly frequently in the United States and Australia, explains Henriette Rudolph.

“By the end of 2020 in Australia, there was already a little idea of ​​what to expect. And they suddenly ditched the mask requirement and then experienced an unexpectedly intense early outbreak with this RS virus. And it is a virus that causes serious respiratory infections with bronchitis and even life-threatening developments, especially for newborns and premature babies. “

Do not go to the pediatrician out of fear

Another problem is that many children are not fully immunized due to the corona crisis, continues the pediatrician. Many parents would not have dared to go to the doctor for fear of being infected with the new type of coronavirus and would not have sent their children for check-ups. However, Henriette Rudolph does not consider it unproblematic that the immune system of small children can hardly cope with the usual infections during confinement.

“It is not yet clear at the moment. There are various hypotheses about the child’s immune system. On the one hand, we know from the data that excessive hygiene and constant disinfection and isolation of children’s hands tend to lead to more allergies in children. However, this is now, during confinement and during the mask requirement, it is not necessarily comparable to that, because children, they weren’t completely at home. On the contrary, they went out into the wild more, more often, at least they had some exposure, so I did, I’m actually optimistic it won’t happen a lot. “