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A trifecta of viruses


WORLD Radio - A trifecta of viruses

HHS says more than three quarters of inpatient hospital beds are currently in use


PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Up next: a trifecta of viruses is keeping American healthcare workers busy. RSV is leveling off, but has caused a troubling rise in pediatric hospitalizations this year. COVID cases are ticking back up and the flu season is off to a ferocious start. In fact, Vox reports that the U.S. has never recorded this many positive flu tests in one week.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Right now, the Department of Health and Human Services says more than three quarters of inpatient hospital beds are currently in use.

Joining us now with insight is Dr. Justin Coby. He is the Director of the teaching pharmacy at Cedarville University’s School of Pharmacy in Ohio. Doctor, good morning!

JUSTIN COBY, GUEST: Good morning! Thank you so much, Myrna.

BROWN: Let’s start with RSV. Tell us what that virus is and where the outbreak in the United States stands currently.

COBY: Yeah, it’s a great question. So, RSV is essentially just a respiratory virus that is common. It's been around for some time, but usually it's infants that we see the higher rates. Usually it's children and infants. But this year because the rates are so high, 10 times the rate that we typically see it in the community, we’re even seeing older adults coming down with it and struggling with it. So, as you said, looking at the CDC and the current rates, they are up higher than they've been all year. And it does look like we are plateauing, but to add in all the other viruses, this RSV is really causing some trouble for people.

BROWN: What are the best ways to prevent or treat RSV?

COBY: Yeah, another great question. So, RSV, like any other virus, can be avoided with really good hygiene. It is airborne, so you want to wear a mask if you are ill, but then also, washing hands, making sure not to touch your face with your hands, these sorts of things will help prevent it. Treatment is kind of limited. There's only one monoclonal antibody that will be used in the most severe cases. But beyond that, there is no treatment other than treating the symptoms. So that's why RSV can be kind of scary, especially for those little ones who if they end up hospitalized you only have one treatment available.

BROWN: COVID-19 cases are also ticking up once again — though nothing drastic right now. What strains of COVID are currently circulating and who is at highest risk of severe illness?

COBY: Yeah, well, we don’t know of the most recent mutant variants. Obviously that’s something we can catch up on, but what we have seen is it’s still the omicron variant that we're dealing with. So the new boosters that are out will help provide coverage for those Omicron variants, but that's what we're seeing out there right now.

BROWN: Over the summer, the government approved the Novavax COVID vaccine. That is different from Pfizer and Moderna’s shots in that it uses more traditional technology. It is not an mRNA vaccine. Explain the difference, if you would. And have those leery of mRNA vaccines shown more confidence in the Novavax shots?

COBY: Yeah, so Novavax as you said was created in the more traditional way. Ok, so what’s the more traditional way? Well, what they'll do is they'll get a live virus, they'll kill that virus and then kind of chop it up, though not eloquent to say, but essentially, that's what what they do and so they chop the spike protein from dead virus and then that is what makes up the vaccine that is injected and then your body recognizes this spike protein as something that he needs to create antibodies for and that's how your protection is created with that style of Novavax versus the mRNA. And the mRNA, the difference is that there it's gene coding so that your body creates the spike protein, then leading to antibiotic creation of those spike proteins. I'll be honest in our area, we haven't seen a huge demand for Novavax as it's come on. However, it is a good alternative for those who are concerned about the mRNA vaccine. And just recently, the FDA approved a booster for that Novavax vaccine, so we are seeing some interest in the booster.

BROWN: And last but not least, the flu is hitting hard and fast so far this season. What can you tell us about what we’re seeing this flu season?

COBY: Yeah, like RSV we’re seeing 10 times the hospitalization rates with flu, particularly in this area influenza A. So it is very rapid right now. We're doing our best to vaccinate and that's the best way to get coverage for it. The vaccine has four different variants in it and it has been found to cover what is in the community right now. Of course we get that data from Australia before it comes over here. And Australia had a really bad flu season, so we knew it was going to be bad here. And it has been but luckily the vaccine will cover for the strains that we've seen in the community so far.

BROWN: Okay, we’ve been talking to Dr. Justin Coby with Cedarville University’s School of Pharmacy. Dr. Coby, thanks so much!

COBY: Thank you very much.

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