immune systems

Brits Suffering from ‘Super Colds’ Due to Weakened Flu Immunity Following Lockdowns

The decline in flu immunity during lockdowns has resulted in Brits complaining of suffering from ‘super colds’, with extra disruption to life likely to be caused by some health experts advising those with symptoms to isolate before ruling out Covid through testing. The Mirror has the story.

Social media is seeing users increasingly talking about having caught a “Super Cold” as Covid tests come back negative. …

[Professor Neil Mabbott says:] “As [lockdown] measures are eased and people start mixing more indoors and travelling on public transport we can expect to see a significant rise in colds and other respiratory diseases.”

Professor Alex Richter, of Birmingham University, said: “It is impossible to tell the difference between a cold and Covid clinically.

“They present so similarly that only PCR testing can differentiate between the two. Lateral flow testing can help with screening, but if someone has symptoms then they should go for a PCR swab test.”

“It is unlikely we are seeing the circulation of a ‘Super Cold’,” Professor Mabbott added.

“Rather our immune systems have had limited exposure to colds over the past 18 months, so our immunity to these diseases will have waned during this period and will be less effective against colds than would be expected normally.” …

Professor Alan McNally is Professor of Microbial Evolutionary Genomics at the University of Birmingham and was Infectious Disease lead at the Milton Keynes Lighthouse Lab.

He said: “If you have any symptoms of respiratory infection you should stay at home to prevent transmission and get a test done for Covid to rule in or out.

“Trying to self-diagnose is a sure-fire way to send Covid case rates soaring again.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Telegraph has some advice for those suffering from the ‘super cold’.

The Staggering Inadequacy of NHS Scotland

by Montgomery Scott

It happened quickly and out of the blue. We’ve three young children – a six year-old, three year-old and our six month-old ‘lockdown baby’. Any parent with children in an education or nursery setting will tell you that from September to June they spend 80% of that time with a cold, cough, sneeze or sniffle. On occasion, it can be much worse. Our eldest once had scarlet fever and had to be rushed to hospital while he was having a sleepover at his grandparents. He was fine but they’ve never quite recovered. After your first sprog, you tend to roll with the punches and are able to tell if something is seriously wrong and make plans accordingly.

We were not, however, prepared for the events of this week. Having inherited a lurgy from his siblings, the baby hacked his way through the past seven days. His temperature soared now and then but we brought it down with sleep, Calpol and Ibuprofen.

On Monday we realised it was getting worse. His breath came in short gasps; he was managing only every third inhalation to get oxygen into his tiny lungs. We live in Scotland so it was also the September holiday weekend, meaning the older children were around our feet until the babysitter arrived. By evening, we decided that if the baby could get a long sleep it might nail whatever he was struggling with internally. He didn’t. When he refused to eat, drink and had a dry nappy we knew the game was up.

I’m 40 now but when I was a child I had bad asthma – meaning regular visits to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. I grew up in a town 15 miles from Ninewells and when anyone in our household became ill we could telephone our local GP who would – if required – visit our house. It didn’t matter whether it was day or night. This was the case for both adults and children; my father when he crumpled with appendicitis and we children when suffering a fever.

As a rule, I have a soft spot for things from the past. I like old cars with roaring petrol engines. I admire the quality craftsmanship of Edwardian and Victorian furniture. I love gothic fiction. Yet I am also a progressive in its true sense. I’m receptive to new ideas and fascinated by technology. I listen to others’ opinions even if inside I’m thinking “what total crap”.

My experience this week, however, has confirmed that the health service in Scotland is gasping its last breath. Rather like my son could have done had we not taken matters into our own hands.

I looked online to remind myself what options were available for out-of-hours GP advice. I checked our local practice first and their pages directed me to NHS 24, or ‘111’. On their website, there are so many options – probably to confuse the time wasters – that I thought perhaps there was no alternative to calling 111 other than by an online contact form. I gave up and just called 111.

The phone line proved infuriating. I’ve worked in some senior roles in my time and as I listened to the repeated messages about Covid symptoms I had an increasing sense that NHS Scotland is grinding to a halt – with management either disincentivising those without coronavirus symptoms from getting in touch at all, or trying to process what (I thought) must be thousands of people with Covid symptoms through the NHS.

I heard midnight chime in the village steeple. It took 10 minutes to speak to a call handler. Our baby’s breathing was at its worst. Barely there at all. He was gulping in air but seemed unable to get it down. We put the call on speaker. After going through patient details we read the symptoms out. The telephonist was polite and clear and asked straightforward queries. He brought in a second person – a nurse – to ask specific medical questions about our boy’s pallor and the movement of his chest and stomach. As soon as we answered she said: “Okay, I’m going to get an ambulance to you.”

Of all the things I’d waited for her to say, I didn’t expect that. My wife was upset. She felt it was her fault. A ridiculous notion but mothers are hardest on themselves.

We leapt to action and packed a hospital bag for baby and one for mummy. It took us 10 minutes.

I put the lights on downstairs and in the hall and opened the curtains so we would be a spotlight in the midst of the village – drawing the ambulance to us. If lucky, my wife would manage a cup of coffee before she went in the back with the baby.

We discussed the possibility that she and our son might get separated – either by the ambulance or at the hospital – but thought we were only applying our worst fears from the past 18 months, and if such a question were to arise she would dig her heels in and refuse any intervention which cited Covid rules.

My wife and I are what I’d describe as “informed sceptics”. We take precautions, don’t believe in lizard rulers, stick to the rules like wearing masks in heaving crowds, don’t wear them in the school playground (as we ought in Scotland) but do our research. We dithered over the vaccine, skipping our appointments only to then attend the drop-in clinic when vaccine passports were brought in in France. We also know that children and babies without life-threatening conditions statistically are safe from Covid harm.

To drive from our village to the new Edinburgh Sick Kid’s Hospital takes around 30 minutes on quiet roads. We also have smaller community hospitals on each point of the compass around us. I’d figured on the shortest time for an ambulance to get to us as 15 minutes, and the longest half an hour.

Our baby continued to gasp like a fish on a ship’s deck.

After 45 minutes of waiting the clock read 1am. My phone rang. A telephonist from the Scottish Ambulance Service on a Glasgow number cheerfully opened up the conversation. He was sorry to bother us. He’d been given limited information from NHS 24. Could we describe the symptoms. Has our baby suffered a seizure or convulsion yet. “No,” we said, thinking, “Why on earth would we wait for that to happen before doing anything?” I mean, for Christ’s sake, our son can barely breath.

The conversation came to an unusual impasse. We were informed that unless our six month-old suffered any of the above we wouldn’t be deemed a critical case and the ambulance would come in 12 hours time. “What?” I heard my wife say from the middle of the room. “12 hours?” Immediately my wife put on a jacket and grabbed the car keys. “We’ll drive him in ourselves.”

On arrival at Edinburgh Sick Kid’s Hospital matters dissolved into farce. Nurses took vitals in the waiting area and we waited. We were informed that no rooms were free. This is a £1 billion flagship Scottish hospital in our capital city that’s just opened. My wife waited for four and a half hours for a room. The mother next to her had a wheezing toddler, who had had convulsions and arrived by ambulance – only to wait two and a half hours to be taken to a room. In the course of the night, the waiting room filled up with coughing, gasping children.

Our family’s fears about Covid restrictions proved unfounded. Neither our baby nor my wife was tested for coronavirus and no sign of that happened with the other children present.

Instead, we received an outburst of frankness from an NHS nurse after the four-and-a-half-hour wait. She told us that cases of serious chest infections – such as acute bronchitis – which our six month-old had contracted, were exploding. The reason? Not enough exposure to minor ailments and infections to boost their developing immune systems due to the lockdowns.

NHS Scotland is the mids of a crisis. The Scottish Government has borne considerable public wrath in recent days over ambulance waiting times. Some people have had to wait 40 hours for an emergency vehicle only to die anyway. Based on our experience, this fury is earned.

My wife drove home with our son at 7am. Ninety per cent of the time spent waiting, half an hour to decide it would be best fixed by waiting it out – to try another day to see if he suffers a convulsion and therefore could be close to death.

Work often takes me to London. I could have taken the Edinburgh to London journey three times before an ambulance reached our house from a brand new hospital 30 minutes from our home.

We have come a very long way from the days of GP home visits. Centralisation of the health service, closure of local acute care facilities across Scotland with more on the way, and the main centres of healthcare simply unable to cope. Add to this a hesitancy from the Government to acknowledge that children and young people are now not only the sufferers in terms of their education but their actual health – weak immune systems coupled with paralysis from many terrified parents to expose them to ‘normal’ life – and you have the perfect storm.

I hope there are better days ahead. We as a family, however, will be taking the Scottish Health Secretary’s advice. We’ll neither call 999 or 111. We will ourselves operate an ambulance service and drive our children to A&E. Woe betide those poor people with no money and no transport.

It truly is a matter of life and death. Only the privileged ones who can drive to hospital themselves will be safe. Shame on you, NHS Scotland.

Montgomery Scott is a pseudonym.

Man Calls for Introduction of Arm Bands That Show Wearer Has Weakened Immune System and Would Like to Keep Distance

It was revealed last week that the BBC is offering white lanyards to staff who are returning to the office but would like to continue ‘social distancing’. The Corporation has since exceeded itself by publishing an article highlighting “calls” for the introduction of wearable symbols showing that the wearer has a weakened immune system and would like to keep a distance.

There’s just one call mentioned in the article, actually, from a man who would like the system to become an “accepted way of people identifying themselves”.

Neil Collingwood, 64, from Leek, Staffordshire, said the ending of England’s lockdown rules on July 19th was not good news for people less able to fight off Covid. 

Even people with two vaccine jabs were not completely without risk, he said. 

He has made a prototype armband.

It “is bright orange and uses the universal symbol for first aid”, Mr Collingwood explained. 

He has it in mind for adults with weakened immune systems, or who are immuno-suppressed, and less able to battle infections naturally. …

“There are about half a million people in the U.K. whose immune systems are not effective,” he said. 

Recent studies suggest they do not receive as much protection from Covid vaccines as other people.

Mr Collingwood, who has chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, a form of blood cancer, as well as type one diabetes, leaves the house only to exercise and occasionally take photographs as part of his work as a historian and author. …

“I’ve already had people who have refused to get out of my way,” he said, “with one person shouting ‘grow up it’s not going to kill you.'”

“Some of the people in my situation may be 10 or 12 years old, they will never – as things stand – be able to have normal lives,” said Mr Collingwood. 

“I probably don’t have all that long left, but I’m damned if I want to sacrifice what time I have got left because of stupidity, and the fact we are not being considered as a very important vulnerable group.”

Worth reading in full.

Disruption to Vaccination Services During Lockdowns Has Driven Down Childhood Immunisation Rates, New Study Finds

A review of 35 studies comparing changes in the pattern of childhood vaccinations before and during Covid for Collateral Global has found that obstacles to vaccination services have “[driven] down immunisation rates, especially in disadvantaged people and poorer countries”. The review, led by Carl Heneghan, Jon Brassey, and Tom Jefferson, highlights that this reduction in services has affected over 80 million children under the age of one from countries across the world.

According to the World Health Organisation’s [WHO] first pulse interim survey published in August 2020, 16/91 (18%) of countries reported severe/complete disruption of routine mobile immunization services, and 10% reported disruption to static routine immunisation services. About half of the countries reported partial disruptions of routine immunisation for both health facilities and mobile services. [WHO first-round survey 2020] …

The WHO’s second round national pulse survey from January to March 2021 reported that more than one-third of 135 countries experienced disruptions to immunisation services: routine facility-based disruption occurred in 35 (34%) countries surveyed and outreach immunisation services occurred in 30 (39%) of countries.

Looking at polio vaccination alone, the review found that the drive to vaccinate children was halted in many countries until the second half of 2020. In Pakistan, for instance, the polio vaccine roll-out stopped in April 2020 and the disruption to services resulted in 40 million children missing polio vaccinations. Pakistan was not, unfortunately, an exemption to the rule.

In a hospital centre in Senegal, polio vaccination was reduced from March to August 2020. [Sow A 2020] Data from Sierra Leone on five common vaccinated diseases from Mar 1st, 2020, to Apr 26th, 2020, compared with 2019, reported decreases in vaccination ranging from 50% to 85% depending on the individual vaccine analysed, including the OPV1 vaccine. [Buonsenso D 2021]

In April 2020, The WHO reported that Niger had an outbreak of vaccine-derived poliovirus that affected two children –having suspended the vaccination campaign due to the pandemic. Niger’s last wild polio case was in 2012. Niger joins 15 countries experiencing vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in Africa. No wild poliovirus has been detected in Africa since 2016. Niger joins the list of countries experiencing vaccine-derived poliovirus outbreaks in Africa.

The Collateral Global review is worth reading in full.

Reduced Interaction Caused by Covid Lockdowns Has Left Children Vulnerable to Other Illnesses

A lack of exposure to the natural environment (as well as to a variety of microbes) caused by lockdowns and “social” distancing is likely to have stunted the development of children’s immune systems, making them more prone to allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases. The New Scientist has the story.

It is too early to know for certain, but extended coronavirus lockdowns could have a long-term effect on the development of children’s immune systems, affecting allergic responses.

The majority of the components of the immune system go through a process of maturation between birth and the age of six.

“Immune systems learn to regulate themselves during these early years,” says Byram Bridle at the University of Guelph in Canada.

Regular exposure to the natural environment and a variety of microbes enables immune systems to learn to differentiate between things that are foreign but not dangerous and foreign things that are pathogenic. A failure to properly differentiate between the two may result in hypersensitivities including allergies and asthma.

Bridle suspects that for “Covid kids” – children who have spent a significant proportion of their life under lockdown – there may be a higher eventual incidence of such allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

Dr Bridle, a viral immunologist, said parents should hug their children regularly to help boost their immune systems.

“Sharing your microbes with your very young child is going to help with this development of their immune system.”

Even though the most beneficial interactions are with other human microbiomes, the presence of household pets is also a boon.

“When people have an opportunity, try and get out in the natural environment,” adds Bridle.

In its report, the New Scientist examines the impact of reduced interactions (caused by lockdowns) on respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in Australia.

In Australia, which has largely been Covid-free for the past six months, there has been a delayed surge in cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a common, flu-like illness that causes a lung infection called bronchiolitis and often has the most serious effects in children under the age of two.

RSV infections typically peak in winter, but in 2020, the RSV season in Australia was curtailed by Covid stay-at-home orders and public health measures.

The number of RSV cases in Western Australia fell by 98% during the winter months of 2020 compared to the same period in previous years. They then surged in spring. A study published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal found that RSV activity started to increase in September, and soon exceeded the median seasonal peak from 2012 to 2019. There was even a change in the median patient age.