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What Will Our Kids' Post-Pandemic Immune Systems Be Like?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- We know this flu season has been extremely mild. Outside of COVID-19, colds and other viruses are also down.

So once we're beyond the pandemic, what happens to our immune systems? Will it affect how often our kids get sick? WCCO spoke with Dr. Gigi Chawla, head of general pediatrics at Children's Minnesota.

"Your immune system learns from previous illnesses and exposures, whatever the time period is," Chawla said.

So one or two years isn't a huge impact.

"Not for kids who have had illnesses and had that healthy interaction in the past," Chawla said.

What about babies or kids born during the pandemic?

"I think babies or little kids who have been at home, that will be a little bit of a change. I can imagine that once we get through COVID and we're getting back to more socialization that they might experience more illnesses, just like kids starting a new daycare," she said.

Kid With Face Mask
(credit: CBS)

We know flu activity is extremely low. Minnesota has seen 32 hospitalizations because of influenza, and the season is halfway over. Compare that to the traditional average of 3,600 Minnesotans in the hospital with flu each year.

Could it be bad next year because it wasn't so bad this year?

"I think we have a lot to learn," Chawla said. "It's really difficult to predict what those influenza seasons are gonna look like year to year."

Could part of it may be COVID crowded out the flu?

"I think we can see a dominant virus that tends to circulate, and can minimize circulation of other viruses as well," Chawla said.

And even though increased stress and interrupted sleep could affect our immune systems as well, Dr. Chawla says there are more important elements of the pandemic to focus on.

"I think the immune system portion is probably, honestly, one of the least of our concerns," she said. "Things like social isolation, behavior and mental health issues, and the impact on learning and the disparities that have been caused, I think those will be the bigger things that we'll be thinking about for years to come, and how they affect kids and their well-being."

Dr. Chawla says one of the longer-lasting changes about how often we get sick could be if COVID normalizes staying home from work or school when we don't feel well.

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