RSV, COVID, and flu ‘tripledemic’ risk runs high

As the weather is getting colder with the winter months approaching, the very scary possibility of a “twindemic” of COVID-19 and influenza we’ve discussed appears imminent. Now, just in time for Halloween, there’s an even more terrifying twist: a third virus, RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, has been added to the equation.

What’s happening?

  1. Hospitalizations for influenza are at the highest level in more than a decade at this time of year.
  2. COVID-19 cases are spiking in the U.S., with Omicron BA.5 subvariants dominating right now.
  3. Now, the highly contagious respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), especially among children, is on the rise across the U.S.

As the New York Times reported last week, that is now raising the potential of a “tripledemic” of flu, COVID, and RSV, with older adults, babies, and pregnant or immunocompromised people at greatest risk.

“If someone contracts both COVID-19 and influenza, there is potentially increased risk of hospital visits and outpatient visits, both of which could overwhelm an already strained healthcare system,” Ashesh Gandhi, PharmD, Regional Head of Medical Affairs, Americas, at CSL Seqirus, recently told Bio.News.

Biotech already offers vaccination solutions for two of the three parts of the problem. Updated COVID boosters are showing signs of stimulating strong neutralizing antibody responses, and there are also different flu vaccines for different kinds of patients.

However, there’s no ready product that covers the RSV segment.

At least three RSV vaccines in the pipeline 

Affecting more than 64 million people worldwide in a typical year, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), RSV is a typical infectious virus that attacks the lungs and respiratory airways and is a leading cause of bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and pneumonia.

Many people infected with RSV remain undiagnosed since RSV symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from influenza or other respiratory infections, such as COVID-19.

While most cases have been mild, NIH says that in the U.S., “RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis in children younger than one-year-old.” Furthermore, RSV annually causes “approximately 58,000 hospitalizations among children under five” and is “estimated to cause about 14,000 annual deaths in U.S. adults over age 65.”

RSV is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases for which an adult vaccine or particular therapy is not yet available. However, several promising shots by Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) members are in the works.

Bio.News recently reported that BIO member GSK recently announced its RSV vaccine reduced RSV cases in adults 60+ by 83% in the phase 3 trial of the jab.

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, also BIO members, are testing promising RSV vaccine candidates, as well, though “GSK managed to complete its trial first and collect the full data.”

Moderna announced in June that it has “four programs in late stage Phase 3 studies, including RSV, seasonal flu and CMV vaccine candidates,” as well its SARS-CoV-2 booster.

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