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Broad impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on acute respiratory infections in China: an observational study

Background: To combat the COVID-19 pandemic, nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPI) were implemented worldwide, which impacted a broad spectrum of acute respiratory infections (ARI).

Methods: Etiologically diagnostic data from 142 559 cases with ARIs, who were tested for eight viral pathogens (influenza virus, IFV; respiratory syncytial virus, RSV; human parainfluenza virus, HPIV; human adenovirus; human metapneumovirus; human coronavirus, HCoV; human bocavirus, HBoV, and human rhinovirus, HRV) between 2012 and 2021, were analyzed to assess the changes of respiratory infections in China during the first COVID-19 pandemic year compared to pre-pandemic years.

Results: Test positive rates of all respiratory viruses decreased during 2020, compared to the average levels during 2012-2019, with changes ranging from -17·2% for RSV to -87·6% for IFV. Sharp decreases mostly occurred between February and August when massive NPIs remained active, although HRV rebounded to the historical level during the summer. While IFV and HMPV were consistently suppressed year round, RSV, HPIV, HCoV, HRV HBov resurged and went beyond historical levels during September, 2020-January, 2021, after NPIs were largely relaxed and schools reopened. Resurgence was more prominent among children younger than 18 years and in Northern China. These observations remain valid after accounting for seasonality and long-term trend of each virus.

Conclusions: Activities of respiratory viral infections were reduced substantially in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, and massive NPIs were likely the main driver. Lifting of NPIs can lead to resurgence of viral infections, particularly in children.


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