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Flu season in UAE: Respiratory viruses a bigger threat to children than Covid, warn doctors

Doctors urge parents to watch out for early signs of illness — like a cold, cough, or a sore throat — and ensure that their children get medical attention early

More school-age children seem to be falling sick these days, with cases of flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) infections on the rise, UAE doctors warn.

Even though Covid cases are now on the decline, the medics stressed that the coronavirus isn’t the only strain that is posing a threat to children.

“There are definitely more cases of flu and/or RSV than Covid-19,” said Dr Supriya G Menen, paediatrician at Aster Clinic, Discovery Gardens.

“With the onset of the flu season, more children have been falling ill, particularly with more upper respiratory tract infections like influenza. As the weather changes from summer to winter, more flare-ups are also seen in kids with allergic rhinitis and HRAD’s (hyper reactive airway diseases),” the doctor added.

The rise of flu and RSV infections, along with the lingering presence of Covid, could be creating what doctors called a “tripledemic”.

Doctors urge parents to watch out for early signs of illness — like a cold or cough, sore throat and hoarseness of voice. They must ensure that children are able to get the medical attention they need early enough to prevent an infection from worsening.

“Make sure that parents do not send their children to school when the kids are unwell. This will both likely exacerbate their child’s condition and also result in more children falling sick. Please ensure that your child gets their flu shots on time, as this will help boost their immunity and reduce hospital visits,” Menen added.

Dr Jamuna Raghuraman, paediatrician at Medeor Hospital, Dubai, noted: “Children are more vulnerable, especially as respiratory illnesses are more common in the colder months. All three – the flu, Covid-19, and RSV – are respiratory viruses with very similar transmission modes. Respiratory illnesses are likely to increase during the winter as dry and cold conditions may weaken children’s resistance and increase the viral spread. We are seeing more cases of influenza and RSV among children in the UAE. Colds spread quickly among children as they are more likely to touch their eyes, mouth, and nose without washing their hands.”

She added: “Parents must not panic. As most are mild to moderate cases, they are treatable. Ensure that children maintain respiratory hygiene. Provide healthy and balanced nutrition and make sure they get adequate hydration. Give vitamin supplements to children with deficiencies. Seek medical help when your child is sick.”

While doctors appreciate how life is returning to normal with the easing of Covid restrictions, they also note that maskless interactions in schools could be leading to an increase in virus transmissions.

Dr Puneet Wadhwa, a paediatrician at Prime Hospital, said: “The number of cases of flu or influenza is greater this year than what it used to be before the pandemic. We do see some Covid-19 cases as well. This is mainly because of the increased interactions, revenge travel, staycations, the festive season, and the removal of the mask mandate.”

“This happens every year but for the last year last 2-3 years this wasn’t the case, because most people would wear the mask. Masks also act as a protection against other viruses,” the doctor added.

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