Recently, certain infections have been on the rise following the COVID-19 lockdown, especially in children. Why is this happening and how can I protect my children?
Local outbreaks of infections like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, and hand-foot-mouth disease have been reported all over Malaysia just after the withdrawal of the prolonged lockdown. For example, just last year in May 2022, the number of hand-foot-mouth disease cases increased by 12.8 times compared to previous years.
This serves as a stern reminder to parents. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, parents should remain cautious as we are not out of the woods yet. But how can we explain this worrying phenomenon?
The ‘Immunity Gap’ theory
The rise in childhood infections following the COVID-19 lockdown is not only being experienced in Malaysia, but also globally. A potential explanation to this trend is dubbed the ‘Immunity Gap’ theory.
Before the pandemic hit, young children were able to go outside and were exposed to a variety of infections. This allowed them to develop a certain level of immunity towards these pathogens. The pandemic forced them indoors, and without sufficient natural exposure to these pathogens, these young children were unable to develop the same level of immunity, which ultimately created an ‘immunity gap’.
Now, with the return to normal, the same young children are now allowed to go outside and are getting exposed to these pathogens. This may explain the recent rise of infections post-lockdown.
Common infections to be careful of
How to protect your little one from infections
Maintain good personal hygiene
We can prevent infections by ensuring good personal hygiene. This includes washing your hands regularly, using alcohol-based hand sanitisers, and disinfecting high-touch surfaces at home (e.g. light switches, kitchen counters, doorknobs, etc.).
Practise general prevention measures
The prevention measures practised during the COVID-19 pandemic are not exclusive to preventing COVID-19. In fact, many other infections can also be prevented by avoiding contact with sick individuals, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, wearing masks in crowded places, etc.
Keep up to date with vaccinations
For the majority of the aforementioned infections, vaccines are currently unavailable or are still in development. However, the influenza vaccine is available to the general public, and it is therefore important to keep your child’s vaccinations up to date. The yearly influenza vaccination can help reduce the chance of your child contracting serious influenza infections and can be given to children starting from 6 months. In fact, pregnant mothers can even receive the vaccination to provide their infant with passive protection immediately after birth.
Even as our lives slowly return back to pre-pandemic normality, parents should stay equally (if not more) cautious of the post-pandemic rise of infections in children. Keep yourself updated with the latest news and recent developments regarding any outbreak and consult a healthcare professional to learn more about vaccination and other preventive steps.