Infectious disease expert warns of more variants emerging without higher vaccination rates

Parents with young children may be hoping for a complete return to normalcy in the near future, but a pediatric infectious disease expert told WTOP that they should still be exercising caution with their kids.

“We’re seeing right now the spread of this new variant, the delta variant, and that that particular strain is spreading more easily than earlier strains,” said Johns Hopkins pediatric infectious disease expert Dr. Aaron Milstone. “Children and other unvaccinated people — whether children or adults will likely get exposed to and become infected with the delta variant or another coronavirus.”

Milstone said while parents may want to get their masks off as soon as possible, they should consider the impact it could have on their children, especially if they are too young to get a vaccine.

“We still have to be careful with those people who are unvaccinated — be it our kids who are younger, or others around who are unvaccinated,” he said.

He said the longer the virus is spreading through communities, the more opportunities it has to mutate and potentially become more dangerous.

“As it mutates, variants can get selected, and we could see another strain, — we’ve already been hearing about the alpha, beta, delta, lambda — we might get another variant that might not only spread, but be more virulent and cause more severe disease in kids,” Milstone said. “So the longer the virus is here, the longer the virus is spreading within people who are unvaccinated, the greater the risk of a worse or more concerning and lethal virus to emerge.”

As if helping kids figure out their new normal wasn’t enough, Milstone said the pandemic created an odd scenario, where a respiratory illness most commonly seen in colder months has been making the rounds this summer.

“It’s called respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV,” he said. “We’ve been seeing it for over a month now. And never in my career had I seen cases like this in the summer.”

Health safety practices, such as hand-washing, social distancing and mask-wearing kept cases of RSV low during the winter, according to Milstone. But now that some of those practices have eased, the virus is making a late comeback.

Milstone said for most people, RSV presents as a cold, but children can develop bronchiolitis — which can cause inflammation and congestion.

“I always tell parents that if they’re concerned about their kids, they should check in with their doctor,” he said. “There are obvious things that should prompt you to go see the doctor — like if your child is sleeping more than usual or having trouble breathing. But other than that, if your child has a runny nose and they have a cough, that might not always require a doctor’s visit. But if people are concerned they should always check in.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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