Social distancing, the closure of schools and cleaner air are likely to be behind a drop in severe asthma attacks that has been observed by doctors during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The trend was first noted by doctor Anthony Buttigieg in a Facebook post saying he had seen a decline in the number of people presenting with severe asthma attacks, bronchitis and sinusitis.

The president of the Medical Association of Malta, Martin Balzan, said he and other doctors had also observed the trend.

Conceding this was only a clinical impression that needed to be backed up by data, Balzan said the lockdown could be hindering viral spread other than COVID-19.

“Scientific literatures shows that the main driver behind exacerbations of asthma is viral infections,” he said.

“Just as social distancing is preventing COVID-19 from spreading, it is also preventing viruses that cause the common cold and influenza and trigger asthma attacks.”

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Pediatrician Victor Grech, who with Balzan has published a study linking a decrease in asthma attacks to the closure of schools, said the school lockdown was leading to a further decline in patients suffering from asthma and respiratory problems.

“Children are carriers of disease. In fact, since we don’t have any school going on, the weekly episodes of infant wheezing we used to see, caused by viruses, have vanished,” he said.

Buttigieg and Balzan also attributed the fall in patients visiting the hospital for respiratory problems to a decrease in pollution. Buttigieg said if it could be proven that many deaths from respiratory disease had been prevented by the current change in lifestyle, there was a case for moving forward on a more sustainable economic model.

However, the doctors also noted that a drop in overall hospital admissions due to fear of contracting the coronavirus signifies that people may not be seeking medical attention even when they really need it.

“We’ve said this numerous times before... hospital is safe and if patients have serious problems they need to come to hospital,” Grech said.

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