What’s behind the surge in respiratory viruses?
As normal daily life resumes after the pandemic, viruses such as RSV and flu have hit us even harder.
Respiratory viruses have long been the most frequent cause of illness in humans worldwide. However, the past year has seen a surge in respiratory viruses such as RSV, particularly in very young people and older people.
RSV manifested earlier and in significantly higher numbers, with hospitalizations rising to a high of 4.9 per 100,000 in the US mid-November. This was a sharp increase from the previous year’s rate (1.1 per 100,000) and also an increase on pre-pandemic rates of (0.5 per 100,000). 
This surge is believed to be due to what has been termed an ‘immunity gap.’ Precautions such as lockdowns, physical distancing, wearing masks, and using hand sanitizer have limited the spread of COVID and other viruses. Quarantine and isolation during the pandemic also resulted in reduced exposure to infections.
Why is RSV affecting older children and adults?
Most young children contract viruses (including RSV) before the age of two and build natural immunity as a response to this exposure. However, the long periods of isolation or wearing masks in public meant that many children weren’t exposed to RSV during much of the initial phase of the pandemic. Hence, their immune systems were unable to develop a response.
RSV is more dangerous to infants and young children because they have smaller airways. The virus causes irritation and mucus that can block airways, making it difficult to breathe.
Adults - especially those older or with compromised immune function - face more serious infection with RSV due to fewer biological defenses.
How can you protect your children from RSV?
Like other respiratory viruses, RSV is spread through contact and droplets. This means it is highly contagious and can be passed on through sneezing or touching an infected surface.
Here are some simple steps to protect your children from RSV:
• Where possible, keep babies and young children away from people who are sick
• Wash your hands and your children’s hands often
• Keep children away from cigarette smoke
• Make sure your child receives all recommended immunizations to help prevent further complications if they do get RSV
How to boost your immune system
Eat a healthy diet
Your immune system has high demands for energy and nutrients, and good nutrition is essential for immune cells to function optimally. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants support the functions of the immune cells, allowing them to respond effectively to pathogens and reduce the risk of chronic illness.  Some micronutrients have very specific roles in developing and maintaining proper immune function and reducing chronic inflammation.
Try to eat five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily to support your body’s needs for essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Get your rest
Regular sleep is crucial for maintaining proper immune function and supporting the body’s defenses against pathogensor inflammation.  Studies show a bidirectional communication between the central nervous system and immune system. Sleep deprivation, however, has been associated with alterations of innate and adaptive immune parameters, leading to a chronic inflammatory state and an increased risk for infection and disease.
Physical activity not only improves overall good health but also modulates the immune system. Studies show that the circulation of important lymphocytes (immune cells) increases both during and after exercise, as well as the release of anti-inflammatory cytokines and greater immune cell recruitment.
Regular exercise is shown to be highly beneficial for reducing the incidence and intensity of symptoms in viral infections. 
What are the essential vitamins?
There are 13 essential vitamins and 13 essential minerals. All of these are important for good health, but certain micronutrients can boost immune function or help you recover faster.
Learn more about essential vitamins for cold and flu.
Vitamin D is considered one of the most essential vitamins for women and men as it supports an enormous range of bodily functions, from calcium absorption to immune health.
Vitamin D is a hormone, a fat-soluble vitamin, and an antioxidant. A vitamin supplement D3 can modulates both the adaptive and innate immune systems by interacting with vitamin D receptors on immune cells and inducing important antimicrobial effects that boost defense against microbes. 
Vitamin C is one of the nine water-soluble vitamins. It’s also a potent antioxidant and a cofactor for numerous enzymes that play a key role in its immune-modulating effects. Vitamin C is essential for the process of stimulating neutrophils during infection, as well as enhancing phagocytosis and microbial killing. This essential vitamin also appears to prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections by enhancing various immune cell functions. 
Zinc is crucial to the function of more than 300 enzymes and impacts virtually every cell in the body. Zinc is especially vital for the development and function of the immune system and is required in immune cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, gene transcription, and signaling pathways.
Chronic zinc deficiency can result in poor growth, atrophy of the thymus, and impaired immune response, resulting in higher susceptibility to infections and decreased wound healing and injury regeneration.  It is also one of the most essential vitamins for men and prostate health.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria and yeasts that can stimulate the immune system and support long-term health. Probiotic bacteria interact with intestinal cells, inducing a series of reactions that increase immune-boosting cells and the activation of T cells. 
When taken regularly, probiotics can be highly beneficial for supporting and maintaining immune system function by stimulating immune cells. Probiotics also fight invading pathogens both by killing them directly and by competing with them for nutrients, which effectively ‘crowds out’ any unwanted colonies.
Supporting your immune system is now more important than ever. Along with the risk of COVID-19, the pandemic has resulted in an ‘immunity debt’ that has increased susceptibility to other viral illnesses. This is particularly dangerous for young children and older adults, whose immune systems are not as functional as others.
Good nutrition, adequate rest, and regular exercise have been clinically proven to maintain immune system defenses. Eating a range of essential vitamins and minerals can provide important immune-boosting properties.
These can be obtained from both food and supplements and should be a priority in any diet.
Updated On: February 5, 2023
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