Monday June 21, 2021

COVID-19 restrictions reduce other respiratory infections

Published : 09 Jun 2021, 23:15

  DF Report

Photo: THL.

The coronavirus related restrictions significantly reduced other respiratory infections in the country in 2020, said the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) on Wednesday.

Almost all infections caused by respiratory tract viruses and bacteria decreased significantly last year starting from mid-March.

For example, during the 2019-2020 influenza season, just over 10,200 influenza A cases were reported to the National Infectious Diseases Register, which is about 8,000 cases less than during the previous year.

For example, the number of severe general infections caused by pneumococci decreased to less than half of what it was the previous year.

"In March 2020, coronavirus pandemic-related travel restrictions, remote work and study practices, hygiene instructions, safety intervals and later face masks were introduced. These have also had an impact on the prevalence of other respiratory tract infections,” said Tuula Hannila-Handelberg, Chief Physician at the THL.

The only exception was rhinovirus infections, which were almost as common as in 2019. Similar findings have also been made in other countries. This may be due in part to the fact that hand sanitizers with alcohol do not destroy the infectivity of the rhinovirus.

Of all intestinal infections diagnosed, 93 were listeria, which is almost twice as many cases as in 2019, and the largest annual number of cases reported to the National Infectious Diseases Register thus far.

Listeria infections have increased considerably since 2009. A listeria infection is generally caused by contamination of food of animal or plant origin and ready-made foods that are cold-stored for long periods. In Finland, foods with a particularly high risk include dry-cured and cold smoked fish products.

Campylobacter is the most common bacterial cause of gastrointestinal infections in Finland. In 2020, 2,074 campylobacter infections were reportedr. The number is just under half of what it was in 2019, but the share of infections of domestic origin was higher than in previous years.

"Last year, travel restrictions may have increased the share of domestic infections, but their number has already been on the rise since 2010. More information is still needed on the origin of infections so that prevention measures can be better targeted,” Hannila-Handelberg said.

The pandemic increased the popularity of outdoor activities and nature activities both in Finland and elsewhere in Europe. This may have affected the prevalence of tick-borne diseases. Even so, the number of cases of diseases remained fairly stable in 2020.

About 6,000 to 7,000 cases of borreliosis are diagnosed annually in Finland. In 2020, a total of 2,064 cases were reported the majority of which represented late-stage borreliosis. In addition, about 4,200 borreliosis cases diagnosed on the basis of clinical symptoms were recorded in the outpatient treatment notification system for basic health care.

In 2020, 91 TBE cases were reported , which was slightly more than the previous year As in previous years, the highest number of infections were detected in the archipelago and in coastal areas. In 2021, the national vaccination programme for tick-borne encephalitis expanded to limited areas in Kirkkonummi and Sipoo.

Bacteria resistant to antibiotics are a major global problem, but so far the situation in Finland is still quite good. However, in 2020, a record 63 cases of serious general infections caused by MRSA, or Staphylococcus aureus bacteria resistant to methicillin were diagnosed. The previous record is from 2016, when 50 cases were diagnosed. Although severe general infections have increased, 15 per cent fewer new MRSA cases were diagnosed than during the previous year and the number was the smallest since the beginning of the 2000s.

In 2020, the number of Enterobacteriaceae resistant to carbapenem (CPE) decreased for the second consecutive year. In most cases, CPE findings are linked to either travel or hospital treatment abroad, so the decrease may be related to a reduction in travel.

The number of vancomycin resistant enterococci (VRE) bacteria was also significantly lower than during the previous two years. In previous years, the number of VRE findings has been higher than normal due to ongoing outbreaks in two different hospital districts. Now, the outbreaks have declined. Both CPE and VRE bacteria cause infections that are difficult to treat