From Dr. Milana Stavitsky, Universal Pediatrics at Newton Wellesley
February 7, 2021
Just a few observations on this season’s flu and common colds. I do not know if you noticed, but this winter and last spring were unique. Unique not just by turning our lives upside down due to unprecedented measures to curb the coronavirus pandemic all over the world, but also extremely low levels of common seasonal infections. I do not need to tell you one more time about death and severe illness the COVID19 pandemic brought to all of us. What is remarkable, though, is how positively it influenced the overall health of our pediatric population. The net result of the tough pandemic responses - from lockdowns to universal mask wearing, never seen before emphasis on personal hygiene, distant learning in schools, and abrupt halt to travel - has had a huge impact on common respiratory illnesses.
We as a pediatric practice in Newton Wellesley started seeing a tremendous change in our usual flow of sick visits as early as last spring. First, we attributed it to anxieties associated with a physical visit a medical office, but even an introduction of easy to schedule and totally safe virtual visits did not change the flow of patients. Summer of 2020 came and went, flu immunizations arrived, and people were very eager to immunize their kids and themselves. This was partially due to mandatory flu shots at most of the schools and daycare centers this year, and partially due to general anxiety about any viral illness causing the fever. So far, here we are in mid-February 2021, and we are seeing an unprecedented reduction in all kinds of sick visits. Very few strep throats that usually ravage through the schools and daycares every winter. Almost nonexistent ear infections which used to be a constant burden on infants and toddlers who would have to go on antibiotics multiple times throughout the cold season. An abrupt decline in RSVs (Respiratory syncytial virus is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms) – a common threat to young children causing multiple emergency room visits and hospitalizations every winter.
Humanity has been dealing with colds and flu for several millennia (ever since the start of documented history). Yearly these viruses cause tremendous loss of lives, health complications, hospitalizations and countless lost work hours. We still do not know exactly what causes one season to be worse than another one, what exactly causes the seasonality of the disease and how to fight it. But this year’s unusual season may bring us not only disappointments and sufferings due to the COVID19 pandemic, but hopefully also help us find out more about other perpetual unwelcome winter guests and ways to effectively prevent them in the future. The nature’s cruel experiment hopefully will help us discover the mysteries of common colds and flu in future seasons and ultimately keep our little patients healthier and happier.
Including a Top Doctor by Boston Magazine since 2016