End of social distancing, masking, and other COVID-19 pandemic mitigations may lead to more severe flu-like infections in northern hemisphere, experts say
Clinical laboratory professionals in the United States and Canada should prepare now for a severe flu season. That is according to infectious disease experts at Johns Hopkin’s Center for Health Security who predict the rise in influenza (flu) cases in Australia signals what will likely be higher than normal numbers of flu-like infections starting this fall in the Northern Hemisphere.
As a Southern Hemisphere nation, Australia experiences winter from June through August. The land down under just concluded its worst flu season in five years. The flu arrived earlier than usual and was severe. Surveillance reports from the Aussie government’s Department of Health and Aged Care noted that influenza-like illness (ILI) peaked in May and June, but that starting in mid-April 2022 the weekly number of flu cases exceeded the five-year average.
If the same increase in flu cases happens here, healthcare systems and clinical laboratories already burdened with continuing COVID-19 testing and increasing demand for monkeypox testing could find the strain unbearable.
Amesh Adalja, MD (above), Infectious Disease Expert and Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkin’s Center for Health Security, told Prevention that Australia’s flu season is typically a harbinger of what will follow in the US, Canada, and other Northern Hemisphere countries. “The planet has two hemispheres which have opposite respiratory viral seasons,” he said. “Therefore, Australia’s flu season—which is just ending—is often predictive of what will happen in the Northern Hemisphere.” Clinical laboratories in the United States should review their preparations as North America enters its influenza season. (Photo copyright: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.)
Consequences of Decline in Flu Vaccinations and Social Distancing, Masks
The New York Times noted that in 2017, when Australia suffered through its worst flu season since modern surveillance techniques were adopted, the US experienced a deadly 2017-2018 flu season a half-year later that took an estimated 79,000 lives.
While the number of flu cases in this country is currently low, according to the weekly US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Flu View,” that is expected to change as temperatures cool.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, influenza was nearly nonexistent. Pandemic-mitigation efforts such as masking, social distancing, and quarantining slowed the spread of the annual respiratory illness. But pandemic mitigation efforts are no longer the norm.
“Many have stopped masking,” said Abinash Virk MD, an Infectious Diseases Specialist at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, in a Mayo Clinic news blog that urged patients to get vaccinated for flu. “For the large part, we will see the re-emergence of influenza in the winter. In comparison, in 2020 winter … there was literally no influenza. But now that has all changed.”
Diminished Immunity Will Lead to More Severe Flu Cases
A CDC report published in July also noted that last winter’s flu season broke from the traditional pattern of arrival of the flu in the fall followed by a peak in cases in February.
During the 2021-22 season, influenza activity began to increase in November and remained elevated until mid-June. It featured two distinct waves, with A(H3N2) viruses predominating for the entire season. But the overall case counts were the lowest in at least 25 years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas Russo, MD, Professor and Chief of Infectious Disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, said the past two mild flu seasons could set the stage for a difficult year in 2022-23.
“Immunity to respiratory viruses, including the flu, wanes over time,” Russo told Prevention. “People have not seen the virus naturally for a couple of years and many individuals don’t get the flu vaccine.” That, he says, raises the risk that people who are unvaccinated against the flu will develop more severe cases if they do happen to get infected.
“People are interacting closely again and there are very few mandates,” he added. “That’s a set-up for increased transmission of influenza and other respiratory viruses.”
“The Southern Hemisphere has had a pretty bad flu season, and it came on early,” Fauci, told Bloomberg in late August. “Influenza, as we all have experienced over many years, can be a serious disease, particularly when you have a bad season.”
CNN reported that US government modeling predicts flu will peak this year in early December.
CDC Advises Public to Get Flu Vaccine
Because COVID-19 and Influenza have many symptoms in common, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, headache, and muscle aches, the Mayo Clinic points out on its blog that testing is the only way to discern between the two when symptoms overlap.
According to the CDC, the best way to reduce risk from seasonal flu and its potentially serious complications is to get vaccinated every year. The best time to get vaccinated for the flu is in September and October before the flu starts spreading in communities, the CDC states. However, vaccination after October can still provide protection during the peak of flu season.
Yet, many people fail to get the flu vaccine even though it is recommended for everyone over the age of six months. CNN reported that just 45% of Americans got their flu shots last season. Flu vaccination rates fell for several at-risk groups, including pregnant women and children.
Though flu seasons are often unpredictable, clinical laboratories should prepare now for an influx of influenza test specimens and higher case rates than the past two pandemic-lightened flu seasons. Coupled with COVID-19 and monkeypox testing, already strained supply lines may be disrupted.
Proteins in human saliva make up its proteome and may be the key to new, precision medicine diagnostics that would give clinical pathologists new capabilities to identify disease
Clinical pathologists may soon have an array of new precision medicine diagnostic tools based on peoples’ saliva. There are an increasing number of “–omes” that can be the source of useful diagnostic biomarkers for developing clinical laboratory tests. The latest is the world’s first saliva protein biome wiki.
The HSP Wiki brings together data from independent studies on proteins present in human saliva. One of the researchers’ goals is to speed up the development of saliva-based diagnostics and personalized medicine tools.
In “The Human Salivary Proteome Wiki: A Community-Driven Research Platform,” published in the Journal of Dental Research, the researchers wrote, “Saliva has become an attractive body fluid for on-site, remote, and real-time monitoring of oral and systemic health. At the same time, the scientific community needs a saliva-centered information platform that keeps pace with the rapid accumulation of new data and knowledge by annotating, refining, and updating the salivary proteome catalog.
“We developed the Human Salivary Proteome (HSP) Wiki as a public data platform for researching and retrieving custom-curated data and knowledge on the saliva proteome. … The HSP Wiki will pave the way for harnessing the full potential of the salivary proteome for diagnosis, risk prediction, therapy of oral and systemic diseases, and preparedness for emerging infectious diseases,” they concluded.
Where Does Saliva Come From?
Saliva is a complex biological fluid that has long been linked to oral health and the health of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Only recently, though, have scientists begun to understand from where in the body saliva proteins originate.
The authors wrote: “Salivary proteins are essential for maintaining health in the oral cavity and proximal digestive tract, and they serve as potential diagnostic markers for monitoring human health and disease. However, their precise organ origins remain unclear.
“Through transcriptomic analysis of major adult and fetal salivary glands and integration with the saliva proteome, the blood plasma proteome, and transcriptomes of 28+ organs, we link human saliva proteins to their source, identify salivary-gland-specific genes, and uncover fetal- and adult-specific gene repertoires,” they added.
“Our results pave the way for future investigations into glandular biology and pathology, as well as saliva’s use as a diagnostic fluid,” the researchers concluded.
Saliva plays a crucial role in digestion by breaking down starches. It also provides a protective barrier in the mouth. When salivary glands malfunction, patients can face serious health consequences. Although clinicians and scientists have long understood the importance of saliva to good health, the question now is whether it contains markers of specific diseases.
“The Human Salivary Proteome Wiki contains proteomic, genomic, transcriptomic data, as well as data on the glycome, sugar molecules present on salivary glycoproteins. New data goes through an interdisciplinary team of curators, which ensures that all input data is accurate and scientifically sound,” noted Labroots.
Omics and Their Role in Clinical Laboratory Diagnostics
Proteomics is just one of several hotly-researched -omics that hold the potential to develop into important personalized medicine and diagnostics tools for pathologists. Genomics is a related area of research being studied for its potential to benefit precision medicine diagnostics.
However, unlike genomes, which do not change, proteomes change constantly. That is one of the main reasons studying the human salivary proteome could lead to valuable diagnostics tools.
Combining the study of the -omes with tools like mass spectrometry, a new era of pathology may be evolving. “With the rapid decrease in the costs of omics technologies over the past few years, whole-proteome profiling from tissue slides has become more accessible to diagnostic labs as a means of characterization of global protein expression patterns to evaluate the pathophysiology of diseases,” noted Pathology News.
Saliva and the Age of Precision Medicine
The study of the -omes may be an important element in the evolution of precision medicine, because of its ability to provide information about what is happening in patients’ bodies at the point of care.
Thus, a full understanding of the proteome of saliva and what causes it to change in response to different health conditions and diseases could open the door to an entirely new branch of diagnostics and laboratory medicine. It is easy and non-invasive to gather and, given that saliva contains so much information, it offers an avenue of study that may improve patients’ lives.
It also would bring us closer to the age of precision medicine where clinical laboratory scientists and pathologists can contribute even more value to referring physicians and their patients.
New vaccine has potential to reduce volume of clinical laboratory testing for bacterial and viral infections
By now, nearly all pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists acknowledge that advances in molecular diagnostics and genetic testing are contributing to significant improvements in patient care. Now comes news of a comparable breakthrough in another field of medicine with the potential to protect many individuals from pneumonia and similar infectious diseases.
This cutting-edge pneumococcal vaccine allows Streptococcus pneumoniae to colonize and live inside the body as long as there is no risk to the host. When a threat is detected, the vaccine establishes an immune system response to annihilate the disease-causing bacteria. (more…)