Pharmaceutical companies could be made to disclose prices and deals agreed for any products they make to fight future global health emergencies, under new rules that would govern a World Health Organization (WHO)-backed pandemic accord reviewed by Reuters. A draft version of the WHO accord, which is being negotiated by the UN health agency’s 194 member countries, calls for it to be compulsory for companies to reveal the terms of any public procurement contracts.
A team of researchers affiliated with several entities in Thailand, working with two colleagues from the US and two from Canada, has developed an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine that can be safely refrigerated for up to three months before use. The team has named it ChulaCov19. In their paper published in the journal Nature Microbiology, the group describes the differences between their vaccine and other mRNA COVID-19 vaccines. Amid the global pandemic, groups around the world have developed vaccines to protect or lessen symptoms of people from/with COVID-19. And of the 172 vaccines developed to date, 40 are RNA-based.
In one of the largest, longest, and most comprehensive studies of respiratory virus infections in humans, Murcia and colleagues used a PCR assay that can identify members of 11 viral families to probe nasal and throat samples from more than 36,000 individuals who sought care from the National Health Service in Glasgow over 9 years. Among other examples of viral interference, their data clearly showed rhinovirus and influenza A peaked at different times demonstrating a “negative interaction” between the two viruses, the group concluded in the 26 December 2019 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The next year, Foxman and colleagues reported finding interference after PCR testing for 10 different viruses in 13,000 respiratory samples from adults who sought care at the Yale New Haven hospital system. Between 2016 and 2019, about 7% of people tested positive for rhinovirus or influenza A virus, but of these 1911 samples, only 12 had both viruses, significantly fewer than expected, they reported in The Lancet Microbe. “It was great to see Ellen Foxman’s paper,” Murcia says. “She essentially showed similar results to ours, and they are completely independent studies.”
In the same report, Foxman pinned down the causal role of interferons. Like normal airways, the organoids her team makes from bronchial epithelial cells mount immune responses, including secreting interferons. Infecting organoids with rhinovirus nearly halted the growth of influenza A viruses added later. The rhinovirus infections led to the expression of a flood of interferon-related genes, the study showed. And when her team treated the organoids with drugs that blocked their cells from mounting an interferon response, the influenza viruses thrived.
Now, viral interference researchers are closely watching the newest respiratory virus to circle the globe. “What interactions could SARS-CoV-2 have with other viruses?” Murcia asks. “To this day, there are no robust epidemiological data.” For one thing, the widespread social distancing and mask wearing in many countries meant there was little chance to see interference in action. “There was almost no circulation of other respiratory viruses during the first 3 years of the pandemic,” Boivin says. Also, SARS-CoV-2 has many defences against interferons, including preventing their production, which might affect its interactions with other viruses.
Still, Foxman has published evidence that, in her organoid model, rhinovirus can interfere with SARS-CoV-2. And Boivin’s team has reported that influenza A and SARS-CoV-2 each can block the other in cell studies.
Triple threat. Tripledemic. A viral perfect storm. These frightening phrases have dominated recent headlines as some health officials, clinicians, and scientists forecast that SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) could surge at the same time in northern hemisphere locales that have relaxed masking, social distancing, and other COVID-19 precautions. https://www.science.org/content/article/competition-between-respiratory-viruses-may-hold-tripledemic-winter?
But a growing body of epidemiological and laboratory evidence offers some reassurance: SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses often “interfere” with each other. Although waves of each virus may stress emergency rooms and intensive care units, the small clique of researchers who study these viral collisions say there is little chance the trio will peak together and collectively crash hospital systems the way COVID-19 did at the pandemic’s start.
“Flu and other respiratory viruses and SARS-CoV-2 just don’t get along very well together,” says virologist Richard Webby, an influenza researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “It’s unlikely that they will circulate widely at the same time.”
“One virus tends to bully the others,” adds epidemiologist Ben Cowling at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health. During the surge of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in Hong Kong in March, Cowling found that other respiratory viruses “disappeared … and they came back again in April.”
Untangling such interference hasn’t been easy given the number of respiratory viruses—coronaviruses, rhinoviruses, adenoviruses, RSV, and influenza are just among the best known—and the many infections that escape notice. Recent advances in technology, however, make it easier to detect infections in people and study how multiple viruses behave in the lab, in cell cultures or stem cell-derived tissues known as organoids. Increasingly, researchers are fingering a cause: chemical messengers that infected people produce called, fittingly, interferons.
When a respiratory virus sweeps through a community, interferons can broadly raise the body’s defences and temporarily erect a population wide immune barrier against subsequent viruses that target the respiratory system. “Basically, every virus triggers the interferon response to some extent, and every virus is susceptible to it,” says immunologist Ellen Foxman at Yale University, who has been exploring interference between SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses in a laboratory model of the human airway.
Rhinoviruses, which cause common colds, can trip up influenza A (the most prevalent flu virus). RSV can bump rhinoviruses and human metapneumoviruses. Influenza A can thwart its distant cousin influenza B.
Still, interference isn’t a sure thing when multiple viruses are circulating. A household survey of 2,117 people in Nicaragua, for example, found both flu and COVID-19 cases peaked at the same time in February, suggesting “limited viral interference,” the researchers concluded in a preprint. “I think of interference as a small push,” says Aubree Gordon, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, researcher who led the study with colleagues from Nicaragua’s ministry of health. “It depends on population immunity and when that virus last circulated and flu and COVID vaccination rates.”
The Earth’s population has reached a milestone by surpassing 8 billion people, the United Nations said this week. But the rate of increase is falling, and global population may begin to decline late in the century after topping out at about 10.4 billion, according to the UN Population division. www.science.org/content/article/news-glance-carbon-trackers-china-s-zero-covid-19-tweaks-and-8-billion-humans
The UN’s World Population Prospects 2022 report notes that two-thirds of the global population already lives in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman, roughly the level required for zero growth for a population with low mortality. More than half of the projected increase in global population between now and 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania.