Earlier this week, I sent a text to my friend complaining about having to keep my son home from daycare because of croup. She replied saying that her daughter was also feeling sick (a cold? A cough? She wasn’t sure). And then when I told my boss that I would be juggling work with childcare for the day, she totally understood—her kids were home from camp, too. What the hell is going on? We wondered. So, we reached out to Dr. Christina Johns, pediatrician and senior medical advisor at PM Pediatrics to get her take. (Oh, and BTW, Dr. Johns also had a child who was home sick the day of our interview.)
Are more kids getting sick this summer?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Per Dr. Johns, the winter respiratory virus season that typically happens every year between October and March has shifted to the summer. “In our urgent care offices across the country, we are seeing it all—from colds to croup to that RSV bronchiolitis that you’ve heard about in the news, all that stuff that we usually see in the cold weather months, we’re seeing it all now...and a lot of it,” she tells us. But she’s quick to add that this isn’t a reason to panic and that children are not getting seriously ill from this.
Great. So why is this happening?
You can blame it on the pandemic. As things have opened up more this summer and social distancing guidelines have been relaxed, we are all interacting and gathering more. Combine this with the lifting of mask mandates, and the situation is ripe for germ spreading. In other words, when we were all isolating and wearing masks, germs were less likely to spread. “This is really a great case study in how masks work and prevent not just the spread of COVID-19, but lots of other viruses as well,” says Dr. Johns.
Is there a particular age group that is being affected by this surge of summer sickness more than others?
Per the pediatrician, kids are getting sick across the board this summer, meaning that your 2-year-old is just as likely as your 10-year-old to come down with a cold this August. Although what your child is getting up to this summer does play a role. “The kids who are doing more things—gathering in day camps and doing sports and seeing more people—those are the ones who are tending to get these viruses a little bit more simply because they’re exposed to more,” Dr. Johns tells us. But before you consider keeping your child indoors and isolated all summer, she wants parents to know that even kids who aren’t getting out much could come down with something. “As adults, we’ve developed immunity to a lot of these viruses, and we're still doing things like going to the grocery store and the bank, which means we could potentially bring home viruses to our kids.” But again, this is not worth freaking out about, she says. “It is just kind of the price of doing business on the planet.”
What can parents do to minimize the risk of their kids getting sick this summer?
“All of the typical things that we recommend in previous seasons work here as well,” advises Dr. Johns. “If you are going to a gathering and bringing your kids, it’s OK to ask if anybody sick and avoiding direct contact with somebody who is sick.” Other measures that work include mask wearing and hand hygiene. She also cautions against too much hugging and closeness right now with the Delta variant on the rise.
If my kid gets sick this summer, does that mean that there’s something wrong with his immune system?
“We really don't have any reason to believe that this is damaging to kids’ immune systems,” Dr. Johns reassures us. “There is no evidence to think that this means that a child’s immune system isn’t developing properly. This is just a matter of exposure and viruses finding hosts and being able to spread from one person to another.” In other words, the cold your kid is experiencing now is likely not any more severe than the one he had two winters ago. “There’s nothing to fear in terms of immunity—it’s just a matter of taking a deep breath and hunkering down, supporting your child so that they that they can get better as best as they can.”