This is a tough winter for respiratory disease. Coming off of a two-year pandemic we are finding that flu season now has a few friends added to its team. Facing a “tripledemic,” involving influenza, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), doctors and hospitals are gearing up for a potentially busy season.
“The CDC reported about a 14.7% positivity rate for RSV last week, as well as a 17.8% positivity rate for SARS-CoV-2, which we know is still circulating at a high burden,” says Dr. Jamie Deeter, a senior scientific partner at Roche Diagnostics. “But there are other pathogens that are also co-circulating that present as respiratory symptoms. Patients have to take into account rhino-enterovirus, respiratory adenoviruses—which we have seen last week had a 6% positivity rate—as well as parainfluenza and metapneumovirus viruses. So it is important for patients to remember that these additional pathogens are out there as well.”
Luckily, patients and doctors have more tools than ever to combat respiratory disease before it starts, identify it when it’s contracted, and treat it before it becomes severe.
Three pillars of preparation
As we have said before, now is the time to get vaccinated.
“There are three pillars to preparing for the upcoming season, as well as any other season, and the first one is vaccination,” says Dr. Deeter. “Get the flu vaccine and get boosted for COVID-19. Now is the right time. It’s okay that the season has already started. It’s never too late to get that protection.”
You can easily schedule your vaccinations for both COVID-19 and the flu by visiting https://www.vaccines.gov/, Bio.News notes. Signing up takes about five minutes, and you can often schedule an appointment on the same day, depending on your location. A short visit to your local pharmacist will keep you healthy and local healthcare facilities running effectively, and could even save a life.
“The second pillar,” continues Dr. Deeter, “is getting tested. So if you’re symptomatic, go ahead and get tested. It’s so important because you really want to get that result within a timeframe where you can get effective antivirals if you do have a viral infection.”
As many people found out during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are two common tests that doctors can use to identify whether or not you have contracted a virus: polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and antigen tests, both of which can also be used to diagnose diseases like the flu and strep as well. And when it comes to COVID-19, it is easier than ever to get tested with at-home antigen tests.
However, if you are feeling sick, it is a good idea to go to your primary care provider so that you can get tested for a wider variety of pathogens than just COVID-19. “There are PCR tests that are multiplex, meaning that they can test for more than just one pathogen,” says Dr. Deeter. “And going in to get a multiplex PCR test like this is important due to these tests being more sensitive and due to the higher rate of co-circulating pathogens that we are seeing this year.”
“The third pillar would be treatment,” continues Dr. Deeter. “And that goes hand-in-hand with getting tested.”
Antiviral therapeutics have been as much of a game changer in the battle against pathogens as vaccines and testing. Therapeutics like Remdesivir and Paxlovid target COVID-19, while long-established therapeutics, like Tamiflu, Relenza, Rapivab and Xofluza target influenza. These therapeutics can be taken at home and are effective tools in reducing the number of days you are sick, reducing the potential number of days in the hospital, or eliminating the need for hospital visitation altogether.
Ultimately, “tripledemic,” as scary as it sounds, is no match for the innovation and science coming out of the biotech industry. The last two years have shown us that the future is now, we just need to use the resources at our fingertips to stay healthy and safe.