Return of the Cold: Non-COVID Illnesses on the Rise

Dr. Sharon Nachman

With New York state COVID restrictions lifted in June and guidelines in general loosening, people are socializing more, going out to restaurants and bars more, and behaving more “normally.”

Although many welcome this return to normalcy, one downside of less social distancing and mask-wearing is the reappearance of non-COVID illnesses.

Lots of people are getting the first cold they’ve had in a year or their first sore throat in many months. Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, explained the rise in infections, especially among children.

“We’re seeing lots and lots of kids now that are coming in with typical illnesses that we see in the summer, as well as typical illnesses we see other parts of the year,” Dr. Nachman said. “So, it’s a smorgasbord of infections that are always in the background, but are popping up now because of the unmasking.”

According to Dr. Nachman, one major virus that has returned among young children is coxsackievirus. More commonly referred to as hand, foot, and mouth disease, it causes a rash on those parts of the body and is typically present in the summer.

“We didn’t see any of it last year because a lot of the kids who did go to camp, the parents were so vigilant about not sending their kids to camp with any fever, any illness, any rash, any anything,” Dr. Nachman said.

Because parents are now less wary of sending sick or slightly unwell kids to camp, the virus can spread quickly. Doctors are seeing cases of strep throat for the first time in a year. Dr. Nachman also described a rise in hospitalizations among younger children due to Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV).

“It’s classically a late fall [or] winter virus,” Dr. Nachman said. “We see it late October, November, December, January. So it is incredibly atypical for us to have seen it in June and July, yet we are.”

To prevent individuals from getting sick or passing on illnesses to others, Dr. Nachman advised those who are feeling unwell to stay home, as well as continued mask-wearing.

“If you wear your mask, you’re protecting everyone that you see in the grocery store or any other place that you’re going,” Dr. Nachman said. “You’re not going to pass it to them, for them to get sick from it. That mask functions in two different directions: it protects you from them and it also protects them from you.”