The “very serious restrictions” imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic may have had unintended consequences which explain the unusually high rate of respiratory illnesses in children this winter, according to a local health expert.

Head of the Makarios hospital’s paediatric clinic, Avraam Elia, explained that there were so many cases of respiratory illness in children this year, that they accounted for more than the past five years collectively.

“Childrens’ prolonged isolation and the inactivation of the immune system led to its weakening, so when the restrictive measures were dropped – reopening of schools – these pathogens found fertile ground, resulting in a more severe and more aggressive clinical picture,” Elia told Alpha on Monday morning.

“This is one possible explanation, it’s a theory that is very likely, we have seen this phenomenon in other countries that placed children under very serious restrictions,” Elia offered.

He added that this winter was marked by an increase in serious cases of microbial infections and other pathogenic microorganisms.

“And if we do a review of what we saw this winter, we saw that we had a lot of children with streptococcal disease, we also saw a lot of children with microbial pneumonias some of which were serious and led to complications such as pleural fluid buildup, requiring some of them to undergo surgery,” he said.

Indeed, Charalambos Charilaou, spokesman for the state health services (Okypy), said in late December that many people suffering from common colds and other viral infections were also ending up in hospital.

Elia said that another possible explanation is that these pneumonias were caused by a specific pathogen, pneumococcus, and that the childhood vaccine typically deployed against it may be coming up against another strain for which it is less effective.

“But we must reassure parents, too, the Makarios hospital is not full of children with pneumonia – right now there are four such cases – but it is unusual for this period, mid-Spring,” Elia added.

Therefore, he explained, respiratory illnesses – which are the leading cause for child hospitalisation at Makarios hospital – should be even lower by this point.

“There’s no cause for panic but what should cause concern for parents is if the child has high and prolonged fever, a persistent cough, when breathing causes pain and even stomach pains – these are symptoms that will lead a child to the paediatrician,” Elia offered.

He stressed, however, that not all such cases will require hospitalization as there is sufficient medicine and care that can be received at home.