Each fall, classrooms full of kids become smoldering hotpots of colds, flu, stomach viruses, and germs that fester and spread. Doctors expect this; in fact, it’s how young bodies build immunity against these illnesses. But last year was an astonishing exception, with common respiratory illnesses vanishing as the pandemic forced children in the U.S. and other countries to give up their team sports, restrict their play dates, and learn in isolation from home. So, what will this year’s cold and flu season be like?
Doctors can’t say for sure how a lost year of immunity-building will change things, but many are preparing for what could be an extremely busy season. “From a clinician’s point of view, we might, all of a sudden, have a higher volume of children than usual coming in with all these illnesses,” says Carlos Oliveira, MD, PhD, a Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist. In normal years, even if a child isn’t infected with a virus, exposure to it can make their immunity to that virus stronger—and some children who would have started daycare last year have had little to no chance to build immunity, he says.