Vigilance Necessary in Face of Rapid Spread Due to Decline in Immunity

Viral infections are spreading rapidly among children nationwide. Though measures against novel coronavirus infections have been eased, continued vigilance is necessary.

The Tokyo metropolitan government has issued an alert over herpangina — an infectious disease that primarily affects children — after the number of patients per medical institution exceeded six in a recent week prior to the alert. It was the first time in four years for the metropolitan government to issue such an alert.

Herpangina infections have spread rapidly, reaching alarming levels in such prefectures as Osaka and Shiga, among others. This is a worrisome trend for families with infants and children, as well as operators of daycare centers and kindergartens.

Individuals infected with herpangina usually develop fevers, register temperatures of 38 C or higher and get blisters in their mouth. Those affected tend to be around age 5 or younger. Afflicted children often become reluctant to eat due to having a sore throat, but it is important for them to drink plenty of fluids during the summer months to avoid dehydration.

If a child finds it difficult to take in fluids, it may be helpful for them to eat cold and easy-to-eat foods such as ice cream or jelly.

In addition to herpangina, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections, which cause fever and coughing, are reportedly on the rise, too. Unseasonal influenza infections have been occurring in many areas, and schools are increasingly having to deal with cluster infections and related class closures.

In the past three years, measures against COVID-19 have been comprehensively implemented throughout society. Experts have suggested that the rapid spread of infectious diseases among children may be due to decreased exposure to various viruses — other than the novel coronavirus — and a weakening of their immune systems as a result.

The downgrading of COVID-19 to Category V under the Infectious Diseases Law has led to an increase in human activity and a rapid spike in infections. As basic measures against all infectious diseases, it is important to wash one’s hands and gargle.

Infectious diseases that prevail in summer, such as herpangina, hand, foot and mouth disease and pharyngoconjunctival fever, also known as swimming pool fever, are generally referred to as “summer colds.” Those affected by such maladies often experience such symptoms as sudden fever and rashes.

Children are exposed to various infectious diseases through their daily activities and gradually acquire immunity. Many youngsters have likely only recently resumed their normal daily lifestyles that had been on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is likely that some children have yet to acquire sufficient immunity, so caution must be exercised.

Elderly people, too, can become seriously ill if infected with such diseases. It is important not to treat these disorders lightly because they are seen as common colds.

Society is still recovering from the chaos engendered by the pandemic. It is vital to remain vigilant against a range of infectious diseases. It is also essential to deal with infectious diseases appropriately by, for example, wearing masks in hospitals and crowded places.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 24, 2023)