By Sarah Grochowski
Experts are concerned about a new health threat as coronavirus cases wane and Canada reopens – immune deficiency in babies born during the pandemic.
“Infants need to be exposed to challenges in their environment in order to develop a decent immune system,” said Robert Hancock, an immunology professor at the University of British Columbia.
With lockdowns and social distancing, babies have had less exposure to the viruses, germs and bacteria of others. Without them, infants’ immune systems are less prepared to fight off certain sicknesses.
“Babies who were kept away from others are likely less protected from viruses such as the common cold and the flu and allergic diseases including asthma. These infectious agents are able to cause serious harm,” said Hancock.
The immunologist is predicting a new wave of viral and bacterial infections this summer because of it, with the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) of particular concern. While quite common, the virus can make young children extremely ill and can even be fatal.
Last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory notifying health-care providers that RSV cases were on the rise in parts of the country.
In Canada, between 6,000 and 12,500 children under two years of age are hospitalized each year because of community-acquired respiratory illness.
Hand hygiene to prevent infections
The best course of action now, Hancock said, is for parents to ensure their children are washing their hands and maintaining good hygiene.
“Don’t worry too much about sanitizing your home environment,” added Hancock.
“There are surfaces, shared items, and pets in the home that can help train babies’ immune systems just as easily at home as if they are circulating outside.”
Ensure your infant has all the proper vaccination as well, he recommended.
“The best protection is to ensure your baby has all the vaccines, that cover many of the most life-threatening diseases to them, like tetanus, measles and mumps.”
“The consequences of getting an infection are almost far worse than the consequences of vaccinating,” Hancock said.
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