Research to be presented at the 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition finds that social distancing requirements and masking were effective at stopping spread of flu and RSV viruses
ITASCA, IL – Influenza infects up to 15% of the world population each year, a killer of medically vulnerable children and older adults, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes about 300,000 emergency room visits a year in the United States. New research shows that COVID-19 masking requirements prevented these annual viral infections.
The study abstract, “The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic Social Distancing and Mask Mandates on the Prevalence of Influenza and RSV During Their Peak Season,” to be presented at the virtual American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition, examined the impact of masking and social distancing practices used to control the spread of COVID-19. Researchers in Ohio found these measures reduced the spread of flu by 99%, and they found absolutely no cases of RSV in the Northern Ohio research region.
“Numbers don’t lie. Face masking, and proper hygiene and isolation can be effective means to protect the vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and young children during the respiratory virus season,” said Osama El-Assal, MD, PhD, the abstract author and a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Akron Children’s Hospital. “It can be a simple non-medicinal way to save lives.”
The research was conducted at Akron Children’s in Ohio during the peak respiratory season from October 2020 through April 2021. Mandatory social distancing in Ohio during the COVID outbreak created a unique opportunity to study the effects of these precautions on the spread of influenza and RSV during their predicted peak seasons.
During the study period, when there were masking and social distancing measures in Ohio, researchers found that there were no cases of influenza A and RSV, and just two cases of influenza B. After March 14, 2021, social distancing requirements were relaxed in Ohio, and viral infections like RSV returned. They concluded that social distancing and mask mandates are effective tools to reduce the rates of potentially serious infections like influenza and RSV in children.
Dr. El-Assal will present the study abstract at 10:46 a.m. Central Saturday, October 9, 2021.
To request an interview, journalists may contact Laurie Schueler.
Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.
Abstract Title: The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic Social Distancing and Mask Mandates on the Prevalence of Influenza and RSV During Their Peak Season
Osama El Assal
Akron, OH, United States
Saturday, October 9, 2021: 10:46 AM –
Influenza and bronchiolitis are serious infections especially among vulnerable pediatric populations. Earlier studies have suggested that the transmission of influenza viruses can be reduced by face masking and social distancing measures. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio adopted various measures including school closing, travel restrictions, social distancing, and face masking in March, 2020. These measures have created a unique opportunity to study the impact of social distancing measures on the spread of potentially serious viral infections such as influenza and respiratory syncytial viral (RSV) infections of children in our locality.
This is a retrospective cohort study conducted at Akron Children’s hospital in Northeast Ohio where the peak respiratory season extends from October to April. The primary outcome was to evaluate the prevalence of influenza A and B and RSV infections before and after implementation of social distancing measures. Prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 was also tracked for comparison. Viral assay data were collected between October 1, 2020 through April 30th, 2021 (during the pandemic and social distancing implementation) and compared with two pre-COVID-19 respiratory seasons: 2018-19 and 2019-20. Results from all patients who received viral testing as a part of their medical care were included. Viral tests included rapid antigen tests for Influenza A/B and RSV (Quidel SoFIA), Respiratory Film Array (BioFire, includes flu, RSV, and SARS-CoV-2 targets), and single target tests for SARS-CoV-2 from multiple vendors (see Table 1).
There was a dramatic increase in viral testing in the 2020-2021 respiratory season. With most of the new test targeting SARS-CoV-2, Flu and RSV antigen tests decreased significantly but were replaced in part by Respiratory FilmArray use (Table 1). Pre-COVID-19, the peak incidence of RSV occurred in December for the 2018-19 (28.9%, average of 8.8%) and 2019-20 (24.7%, average of 8.8%) seasons. After social distancing measures, the incidence and positivity rate for RSV was 0% until March 14, 2021 when the first RSV case was detected in our locality, concurrent with relaxation of social distancing measures. Pre-COVID 19, the peak incidence of Influenza A virus occurred during February in the seasons 2018-19 (40.9 %; average of 13.6%) and 2019-20 (24.1%, average of 6.1%). Influenza B had a low incidence throughout 2018-2019 (average of 0.3%) with a peak during January in the 2019-2020 season (24.0%, average of 6.8%). During the 2020-2021 season, we detected only two isolated cases of Influenza B virus and no cases of Influenza A virus through April 30, 2021 (Figure-1).
Social distancing and mask mandates can be effective tools to decrease the rates of potentially serious infections such as Influenza and RSV in the pediatric population. Travel restrictions and school closures likely had an affect but were not evaluated during this study.
Viral testing assays and patient population
The incidence of RSV and Influenza A&B before and after COVID-19 social distancing measures