Other viruses suppressed amid COVID-19 pandemic could make strong rebound, experts say

COVID-19 prevention measures such as widespread mask wearing have helped suppress other common respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses, though experts say they could make a vigorous comeback when coronavirus cases eventually decline, The Washington Post reports. 

The prevalence of viruses such as influenza A, influenza B, parainfluenza and norovirus, among others, are at record low levels in the U.S. this year. Reports of enterovirus D68, a rare infection linked to polio-like paralysis in children, are also down. 

"It's crazy," Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC's Domestic Influenza Surveillance team, told the Post. "This is my 30th flu season. I never would have expected to see flu activity this low." 

The CDC's weekly flu map would normally be full with shades of blue and red by now, indicating "high" or "very high" flu activity. For the week ending Jan. 2, all states were reporting minimal or low flu activity. This may also be linked to a record number of people getting the flu shot this year. 

However, experts warn that such viruses could make a large rebound once COVID-19 prevention measures are relaxed. 

"The best analogy is to a forest fire," said Bryan Grenfell, an epidemiologist and population biologist at Princeton University in New Jersey. "For the fire to spread, it needs to have unburned wood ... So if people don't get infected this year by these viruses, they likely will at some point later on," he told the Post. 

In Australia, this has already started. The Post cited a report showing record low levels of flu-like illness in Australia last May, it's usual start of flu season. When the country began easing restrictions after getting the coronavirus under control, flu cases started to rise again. By December, when flu activity is usually low in that hemisphere, cases among children age 5 and younger were six times higher than normal. 

Waning immunity to other common viruses means when they return, some of those infections may also be more severe, experts said. 

"It's certainly a good thing that we're keeping these other infections in check right now, when our hospitals are filled with COVID-19 patients," Ben Lopman, PhD, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told the Post. "But we're learning that the effects of the pandemic are complex. They're going to be long-lasting. And we're going to find that they extend beyond just the disease that SARS-CoV-2 causes." 

To read the full Washington Post article, click here. 

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