Respiratory viral infections tend to follow a seasonal pattern

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Researchers have identified a clear seasonal pattern of respiratory viruses that could help hospitals plan for waves of sick patients.

Michael hawkes

According to lead researcher Michael Hawkes, professor of pediatrics in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta.

“Knowing these trends ahead of time provides a warning that can help the health care system,” suggested Hawkes, a member of the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute and Emeritus Fellow of the Stollery Science Lab.

The study, published in JAMA Network, was started to explore a constant trend noticed by pediatricians for a particular virus that hits babies, Hawkes said.

“It is a well known fact (within the medical community) that in December and January, hospital wards are overflowing with infants with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).” The virus is responsible for sending one percent of infants worldwide to hospitals. “It rings like clockwork during the winter months, so we wanted to take a closer look at this behavior.”

The seasonal pattern has been found in over 10,000 Albertan babies hospitalized with RSV. The study also showed that babies born in January had a higher risk of hospitalization for the virus than those born in June, and that infants born in severe peak years were more likely to be infected and hospitalized. .

At the same time, Hawkes and his team explored other respiratory viruses, including certain strains of human coronavirus, and also confirmed similar seasonal and biennial patterns for them, based on clinical laboratory data analyzed from more of 37,000 patients in Alberta from 2005 to 2017.

“From a year of high infection, there are a large number of immune people going into the next season, which means low levels of infection. But a year of low infection would be followed by low levels of immunity and high levels of disease the following year – an alternate pattern based on transient immunity. “

Overall, the findings could be used to help the healthcare system predict and prepare for peak seasons of illness requiring hospital care.

“Understanding these patterns would allow us, for example, to scale up our RSV vaccinations and public health messages about measures such as hand washing, and would also help plan: how many nurses and beds we will have needed in a given year. “

RSV cases are likely to be high this winter, he predicted, noting that immunity is low as COVID-19 restrictions have kept many people at home and out of school. last year, reducing cases of illness.

“Based on the implications of our work, the healthcare system should prepare for a wave. “

And while the coronaviruses the researchers studied are responsible for less serious illnesses like colds and flu, the findings could potentially help hospitals prepare for future seasonal waves of COVID-19 or other emerging pathogens, a added Hawkes.

“COVID-19, like its cousins, is a respiratory virus and is likely to follow similar patterns to these six other viruses, so we can expect winter peaks and summer troughs for COVID in the future, in the future, in under natural conditions, without vaccine intervention. “

Hawkes noted that although the patterns would change with mass vaccination, knowing the seasonal patterns would allow hospitals to prepare for peaks of illness in unvaccinated people.

“We could predict the highs and lows for the disease and adjust the capacity of our intensive care unit accordingly. “

Hawkes received funding for his research from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

| By Bev Betkowski


Submitted by the University of Alberta Folio online journal. The University of Alberta is an editorial content partner of Troy Media.

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