For the first time in three years, it appears we can look forward to a summer where we might feel more relaxed about respiratory viruses. Nonetheless, healthcare services are bracing themselves for what might be an extremely challenging autumn and winter.
After two years of taking great care to avoid catching or transmitting COVID-19, the population now has a collective, heightened vulnerability to other respiratory illnesses, due to a lack of recent exposure to circulating viruses.
If we take flu, for example, the number of deaths attributed to influenza in England and Wales was 1,598 in 2018, down to 1,223 in 2019 – a drop of almost 24%. Data published by the UK Health Security Agency for the first four months of 2022 confirms that the incidence of flu has remained very low (2.6%), along with hospital admissions and GP consultations for influenza and its symptoms. Likewise, last month the incidence of positive cases of RSV was just 1.9%. Clearly the restrictions put in place through 2020 & 2021 to stop the spread of COVID-19 has also stopped the spread of Flu and RSV, potentially leaving us with an immunity deficit for these diseases and opening the possibility of a significant rebound in the near future.
But with all COVID-19 restrictions now removed, this rebound will lead to sharp spikes in cases of Flu, RSV and, of course, COVID-19, possibly towards the end of the year. And those who are co-infected with Flu and COVID-19 are more likely to have worse outcomes, such as needing a ventilator or being at greater risk of death, according to recent research published in the BMJ.
This is supported by a study of more than 200,000 hospitalised patients, involving researchers from Edinburgh University, Liverpool University, Imperial College London, and Leiden University in the Netherlands. The study found that patients were more than four times more likely to require ventilation support and 2.4 times more likely to die if they were co-infected than if they just had COVID-19.
So, it’s clear that it’s essential to be able to differentiate between these viruses, even though they present with very similar symptoms. The ideal way to do this is via a rapid, multiplex, PCR assay that combines tests for COVID-19, flu A and B, and RSV.
In a busy hospital, with limited resources and staff, it makes sense to use such a form of rapid PCR testing for respiratory viruses at the Point of Need (PoN), in order to diagnose and determine the best course of treatment.
There are rapid PCR testing systems available for respiratory viruses, but many are cumbersome – needing, for example, to be sited away from the PoN, plugged into the mains, and/or comprising of multiple elements that may be difficult to locate in a hurry (e.g., the testing terminal itself, and auxiliaries such as barcode scanners and tablet computers).
At QuantuMDx, we are excited to announce that we are on the cusp of launching our Q-POCTM respiratory panel test (SARS-CoV-2, Flu A, Flu B & RSV), that builds on the knowledge from our Q-POC SARS-COv-2 test and demonstrates the latest in a series of news tests that we will be bringing out on our Q-POC platform. Q-POC is ideal as it provides a fast and extremely simple to use solution that will help healthcare services deal with the sharp increase in respiratory viral infections that is expected later this year.