The bronchiolitis epidemic was virtually absent during the winter of 2019/2020, so scientists fear a lack of immunity in infants, leading to a high circulation of the virus.
After a very weak circulation of bronchiolitis during the winter of 2020/2021, Public Health France had alerted in mid-September, to the fact that an “epidemic of greater magnitude than that observed each year is possible next year”. And the first signals of this viral circulation have appeared in recent days: “We retain a level of passages higher than the three previous years for bronchiolitis”, thus specifies the last epidemiological point of Public Health France.
Bronchiolitis “is a respiratory infection of the small bronchi caused by a very widespread and very contagious respiratory virus”, explains the website of the Ministry of Health. It particularly affects babies under two years of age, 30% of them are affected by this infection each year on average. If the epidemic was almost non-existent and late last winter, this year it is early and could be stronger than in previous seasons.
An earlier and stronger epidemic?
Public Health France thus notes an increase 23% of the number of emergency room visits for cases of bronchiolitis in children under two years of age during the week of September 27 to October 3 (compared to the previous week). The number of cases detected in children under two has thus increased from 1080 to 1329 in one week. That figure was 439 for the week of September 6 to 12.
“The level of indicators remains moderate” but we observe a “tendency to increase which requires the greatest vigilance”, explained last week to AFP Delphine Viriot, epidemiologist at the health agency Public Health France. “The idea is to be able to detect as early as possible the onset of the epidemic, to allow the establishment of the organization of hospital services,” she adds.
Hauts-de-France and Grand Est were thus placed in the pre-epidemic phase last week, and Île-de-France is also beginning to be concerned about the start of an epidemic.
Infants with less immunity
This increase in the epidemic is partly due to the fact that with the barrier gestures and confinements, “there was no significant bronchiolitis last year, so there are antibodies in the population which are less important, and this can make the population more sensitive to this infection “, explains to BFMTV Ricardo Carbajal, head of the pediatric emergency department at the Armand-Trousseau hospital (Paris).
“The bronchiolitis epidemic could be large given a significant acquired herd immunity deficit for children born after March 2020”, also explained the Scientific Council in an opinion of October 5. “Data from the southern hemisphere shows that there has been more intense and lagged traffic in time and age groups this winter.”
Babies indeed need to be confronted with viruses to develop immunity, “diseases such as bronchiolitis and gastroenteritis are obligatory passages for infants,” Fabienne Kochert, liberal pediatrician, explained to BFMTV.com in September. President of AFPA Neonatology (French association for ambulatory pediatrics). “Gradually, they become immune, and do less serious forms.”
Symptoms to look out for
Rhudy Muteba, childcare assistant, explains on our antenna to see parents arriving with children who have trouble breathing, “so we what we do is see the first signs” for example, “a child who is going breathe faster than usual “. The virus can potentially be serious for the little ones, and require hospitalization.
Bronchiolitis “usually begins with a simple cold and cough, then the child is embarrassed to breathe and he may have difficulty eating and drinking,” explains the website of the Ministry of Health. “Coughing fits are very common and may be accompanied by wheezing. If signs of bronchiolitis are found, a doctor should be contacted quickly who will confirm the diagnosis.”
As for the Covid-19, barrier gestures apply to avoid catching, and transmitting, this disease to an infant: wash your hands before taking care of the baby, in the event of a cough, wear a mask and do not not kiss the infant, ventilate the room, do not exchange uncleaned bottles or pacifiers or even avoid taking the baby to frequented public places.
As a reminder, there is no vaccine for this infection, only the symptoms can be treated.
Other diseases to come?
If bronchiolitis is making a comeback this fall, other viral diseases – also not very present last winter due to barrier gestures linked to Covid-19 – could also make their return in the coming weeks. The Scientific Council thus speaks of “serious signals which raise fears of an early epidemic” of influenza “with a significant impact on the healthcare system”.
We are currently observing “a strong outbreak of the acute gastroenteritis epidemic, in particular in the Provence-Alpes-Cotes-d’Azur region”, explains to BFMTV Hervé Caël, general practitioner, “but soon everything that is virus , ENT and respiratory infections, “will also return,” and we expect to have a major flu episode this year, “he said.