Should children wear masks again?  What experts say about taking precautions during RSV, flu scares

Should children wear masks again? What experts say about taking precautions during RSV, flu scares

Rising cases of RSV and influenza have parents wondering if their children should be covered again.  (Photo: Getty Creative)

Rising cases of RSV and influenza have parents wondering if their children should be covered again. (Photo: Getty Creative)

In recent years, COVID-19 has been a major winter concern. But now, a so-called triple disease is circulating – and the cases are piling up.

Currently in the US, flu cases are starting to skyrocket, with 9% of virus tests coming back positive for the flu, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also notes that 4.3% of visits to health care professionals right now are for respiratory illness that is “above baseline.”

At the same time, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again, according to CDC data. That’s not all, though. Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are skyrocketing. A staggering 18.2% of RSV tests have recently come back positive, according to the CDC, with a graph tracking cases nationwide showing a nearly vertical climb in recent weeks.

Reports of school closings due to flu, RSV and COVID outbreaks are on the rise, signaling that respiratory viruses are poised to wreak some havoc this season. With all that said, it’s understandable to have questions about whether you should put your child back in a mask to protect them from respiratory illnesses.

Dr. Betty Choi, a pediatrician, children’s book author and mother of two in central California, tells Yahoo Life that she’s making her 6- and 9-year-olds wear masks again after previously allowing them to go unmasked during small gatherings.

“Mask wearing is a normal and simple public health strategy in many countries, long before the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been inspired to adopt this practice as a family,” explains Choi. Choi says her family uses masks to “minimize the spread of contagious infections,” and notes that they’re also in an effort to maintain consistent childcare.

“We don’t have back-up childcare, and missed school days take a toll on parents’ work and other responsibilities,” says Choi.

Businessman Lionel Mora tells Yahoo Life that he decided to make his 5-year-old daughter wear a mask again. “Now that everyone is getting back together as normal, we’re seeing so much disease spread,” he says. “Everyone’s immune system seems to be a little more sensitive from being indoors and isolated for so long.”

Mora says having his daughter wear a mask is a way to “relief” her back in crowded environments like school “where kids are re-spreading germs, to protect her from all the diseases and allow her to participate with safety”.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that it’s “a pretty reasonable idea” for parents to make their kids wear masks again. “We’ve learned through COVID that masks do provide an extra layer of protection,” he says. “We expected that people of all ages who care about protecting themselves would do that.”

Dr. Marc Hicar, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that this “makes perfect sense,” especially if you have family members who are immunocompromised or if your child has battled the flu or RSV in the past.

But he adds a caveat: “These infections are difficult to prevent when they spread throughout the community, and getting a child to wear a mask perfectly can be a tough ask.” Hicar also points out that while the CDC has guidelines on coverage to prevent the spread of the flu, there is no official recommendation for people who is not infected to cover when the spread of influenza in the community is high.

Dr. Ashanti Woods, a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, tells Yahoo Life that getting coverage to avoid RSV can also be difficult. “As RSV is more selective in toddlers and infants, it may be difficult to suggest that masks will have a meaningful impact as masks may not be worn properly and are not recommended for people under 2 years of age,” he says.

To protect yourself and your family members, Schaffner recommends getting everyone vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19. (Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine for RSV yet—but it’s in the works.) “So consider wearing a mask when you’re in crowded conditions,” he adds.

Hand hygiene is also important in preventing the spread of RSV, Hicar says. “Most data show that RSV is transmitted through contact with secretions, so hand hygiene may be the most effective of these interventions,” he says.

If you know you won’t cover all the time, but might under certain circumstances, Woods suggests monitoring the levels of respiratory viruses in your area and covering accordingly. “Personally, I’m in favor of seasonal coverage when the disease burden is high, given that the result can be respiratory failure and a local ICU that doesn’t have the space to care for a child,” he says.

Schaffner says he doesn’t expect most people to adopt the mask again, but he does expect some willingness. “There is a segment of the population that has taken preventative measures and is now more health conscious,” he says. “They will wear masks when flu, COVID and RSV are high in their communities. It makes sense.”

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