Pandemic ripple effect: RSV in July, teen eating disorders double in some areas

When a pandemic like COVID-19 causes more than a year of social distancing, mask wearing and disruptions to school, sports and other youth-related activities, there are bound to be ripple effects on young people who, while very unlikely to die from the virus, were nonetheless profoundly impacted by society’s response to it.

Two of these likely ripple effects were reported on Thursday: an unseasonable surge in RSV cases among the very young, and a report of eating disorder cases among teens doubling in one Michigan hospital.

RSV surging as COVID restrictions ease

The RSV cases have been filling hospitals and pediatricians’ offices in recent weeks, even though RSV, a respiratory virus that sometimes causes lung inflammation and requires hospital care, is usually only seen from late fall to early spring.

RSV, unlike COVID-19, is most severe in the very young and the very old. Although RSV only kills 500 children a year in the U.S., that is more than COVID-19 has killed in that age range.

Around 14,000 elderly people typically die from the virus, which is far fewer than the hundreds of thousands that have died from COVID-19 since the outbreak began last year.

RSV typically causes the most problems in infants, who are exposed to it when older children bring it home from school. This past winter, though, most kids were not in school or were wearing masks there, so typical exposure may not have occurred,  Dr. Larry Kociolek, an infectious disease specialist with Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital, said.

Teen eating disorders double in Michigan

Another ripple effect of COVID-19 involved teens, who had school activities, sports, and even school itself curtailed because of virus precautions, which led to social isolation for many.

Michigan Health reported Thursday that it saw more than double the number of eating disorder patients in its clinics and hospitals as it did before the pandemic. There were 125 eating disorder hospitalizations among patients ages 10-23 at Michigan Medicine over the first 12 months of the pandemic, when before the pandemic there were around 56 per year, a new study found.

“These findings emphasize how profoundly the pandemic has affected young people, who experienced school closures, canceled extracurricular activities, and social isolation,” Alana Otto, M.D., M.P.H., an adolescent medicine physician at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and lead author, said. “For adolescents with eating disorders and those at risk for eating disorders, these significant disruptions may have worsened or triggered symptoms.”

There have been many reports of teen mental health being negatively impacted by COVID shutdowns, and these effects could be long-lasting and not easy to fix in many cases.

Returning to normalcy

While much of society seems to be returning to normal after the pandemic, ripple effects like these show that the impacts of the virus and governmental and societal responses might be longer-lasting than many would hope.

Maybe the powers that be should think about the potential ripple effects of shutdowns and restrictions before the next pandemic happens, because in all too many cases, the cure ends up being worse than the disease.

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