A new study has found that masking mandates and social distancing measures during the COVID-19 pandemic were highly effective at stopping the spread of other respiratory infections. According to the researchers, social distancing helped prevent the spread of influenza and bronchiolitis, the disease caused by respiratory syncytial viruses (RSV).
Influenza infects up to 15 percent of the world population annually, and kills a substantial number of vulnerable children and older adults. RSV also causes significant damage, bringing almost 300,000 people to the emergency room each year in the United States alone.
New research conducted at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio examined the impact of pandemic-related masking and social distancing practices on these two other dangerous diseases.
The investigation was conducted during the peak of seasonal respiratory illnesses from October 2020 to April 2021. Mandatory masking and social distancing in Ohio during the COVID-19 outbreak provided a unique opportunity to study how such measures affected the spread of other infectious diseases.
During the study period, the scientists found no cases of influenza A and RSV, and just two cases of influenza B, among the children from the Akron hospital. After March 14, 2021 though, when social distancing measures were relaxed in Ohio, viral infections such as influenza or RSV re-emerged.
This proves that masking and social distancing practices can be highly effective tools to decrease the rates of potentially dangerous respiratory diseases, such as influenza and bronchiolitis, in the pediatric population.
“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 study lead author Osama El-Assal, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Akron Children’s Hospital. “It can be a simple non-medicinal way to save lives.
The research will be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition.