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Israel seeing spike in childhood illness RSV after it receded during COVID

Doctors speculate lockdowns kept people from contracting the virus, lowering immunity to it as the general population emerged from restrictions

Illustrative: A nurse stands in the children's ICU for coronavirus patients at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem on January 22, 2020. (Courtesy/Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem)
Illustrative: A nurse stands in the children's ICU for coronavirus patients at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem on January 22, 2020. (Courtesy/Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem)

Israel has seen a spike in cases of a common respiratory virus that typically does not circulate during the summer, including seven children in serious condition.

Citing Health Ministry officials, Channel 12 reported Thursday that doctors were concerned about the unusual rise in RSV and were ensuring that hospitals had appropriate breathing devices to treat patients.

Similar spikes in unseasonal RSV were seen in other places around the world, most notably in Australia and among the ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn in their respective spring seasons.

In all the cases, there had been a significant drop in cases during the normal winter RSV season.

RSV is one of the typically common illnesses that have receded during the pandemic, surprising many doctors. The virus, which causes symptoms like runny nose, cough and fever, and can cause a child to eat less, spreads easily in schools and daycare facilities. Most children will have contracted the virus by the age of 2 and, for most of them, the virus is not dangerous. But RSV can lead to more serious illness in babies, whose airways are smaller and who have no immunity to the virus.

Doctors speculate that lockdowns last year kept people from contracting RSV, therefore lowering the level of immunity to the virus in the general population as it emerged from lockdown.

According to the US CDC, more than 57,000 children below the age of 5 are hospitalized with RSV each year. Between 100 and 500 children die of RSV each year. There is no vaccine.

Israel has lifted almost all its virus restrictions and in recent days even lifted the indoor mask mandate.

An Israeli child receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at Clalit Covid-19 vaccination center in Petah Tikva, on June 6, 2021. (Flash90)

Israel’s mass vaccination drive, which has already given both shots to over half the population, along with lockdown measures, brought down the number of new daily cases (based on a weekly average) from 8,600 at the peak of the health crisis to just 13 on Wednesday.

At the height of the pandemic, there were 88,000 active cases in the country and 1,228 serious cases; as of Thursday, there were 248 active infections and 24 people in serious condition.

JTA contributed to this report

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