What are the most common diseases in the winter season?
Emerging from the relationship between the pathogen, the environment, and human behavior, seasonal patterns have been long recognized as a significant feature associated with various infectious diseases of public health importance. With the removal of the pandemic measures, experts are increasingly concerned that if waves of COVID-19 can overlap with other infections that are predominant in the winter season, it could overwhelm the healthcare systems around the world and put vulnerable populations at higher risk of severe disease or death. So, which diseases are expected to circulate this winter season? Are COVID-19 cases expected to rise? Read along to learn about the most common diseases of the winter season, how to test for them, and how to best protect yourself.
What is flu?
Flu is a common, widespread, and highly infectious respiratory infection caused by various types of influenza viruses. Influenza viruses are single-stranded segmented RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae. The main transmission route of influenza viruses involves respiratory droplets or secretions of infected individuals. Four types of influenza viruses have so far been identified. Among these, Influenza A and B are known to be the only types that cause disease in humans. In fact, its high mutation rate and broad host range have allowed various subtypes of Influenza A the capability to cause large epidemics and even pandemics such as the Spanish Flu, Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, Bird Flu, and Swine Flu. Unlike Influenza A, Influenza B has never been associated with a pandemic, whereas Influenza C and Influenza D have never been reported to cause significant symptoms in humans.
Common symptoms of the flu include fever, myalgia, chills, sore throat, dry cough, runny/stuffy nose, and fatigue. Especially in children, flu can also lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. However, certain groups such as infants, older adults, pregnant women, people with compromised immunities, and those with certain health conditions, including obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes, are at higher risk of developing severe disease and complications from flu. In fact, according to World Health Organization (WHO), flu causes 3-5 million cases of severe disease and around 650,000 deaths annually.
Will COVID-19 cases surge within the winter season?
Although it is also largely affected by human factors, the circulation of Coronaviruses is known to become predominant during colder months. Thanks to pandemic measures, the past two years has seen unprecedently low levels of influenza and RSV. For instance, Groves et al. (2021) have identified a significant drop in the circulation of RSV, influenza, and various other seasonal respiratory viruses in Canada during the pandemic. This winter, however, the impact of COVID-19 may be further increased by the simultaneous circulation of various other respiratory viruses and our waning immunity against them due to two years of pandemic containment measures. Thus, the threat of coinfections and secondary infections are also of concern, alongside a potential upsurge in the circulation of SARS-CoV-2.
What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) infection?
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a single-stranded RNA virus of the family Pneumoviridae. Infection with a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cause different levels and forms of disease ranging from mild upper respiratory disease to severe lower respiratory disease. While many healthy individuals recover after experiencing mild symptoms such as congested or runny nose, cough, fever, sore throat, headache, and sneezing, the infection can lead to more severe disease in people with weak or compromised immunities. In fact, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is currently among the major causes of respiratory infections and respiratory hospitalization in young infants.
What are Norovirus infections?
Commonly known as the stomach flu or the winter vomiting disease, norovirus infections are the most common cause of gastroenteritis. Noroviruses are single-stranded RNA viruses of the Caliciviridae family. They can spread through contaminated food, water, and surfaces, along with direct contact with an infected person. Common symptoms of norovirus infections include nausea, vomiting, watery, non-bloody diarrhea, stomach pain, low-grade fever, and fatigue. Norovirus infections do not typically cause severe or life-threatening disease, and the symptoms are clear on their own. However, in people with low or compromised immunities, including young children, pregnant women, those with other medical conditions, and older adults, the infection can cause severe and potentially fatal dehydration.
What is the Common Cold?
The common cold is a widespread infectious disease predominantly caused by Rhinoviruses. Rhinoviruses are single-stranded RNA viruses of the Enterovirus genus of the family Picornaviridae. They often target the upper respiratory system and transmit via respiratory droplets, airborne aerosols, direct person-to-person contact, and contact with contaminated surfaces. Symptoms of a common cold typically include a runny/stuffy nose, cough, headache, low-grade fever, fatigue, and myalgia. Common cold usually resolve on its own without the need for medical attention.
How can you protect yourself against these diseases this winter?
Similar to other RNA genome viruses, influenza viruses mutate rapidly, frequently, and continuously, which obliges regular revisions to influenza vaccines before each flu season. Still, vaccination is known to reduce the risk of severe disease and is advised to those who are at risk of developing severe disease from flu. Testing is also crucial for the prevention and management of disease during the influenza season. Alongside nucleic acid testing methods such as PCR, antigen detection tests such as our Influenza A/B Rapid Test Kit assists the diagnosis of Influenza A/B and helps differentiate it from other common winter infections with similar symptoms such as the common cold, COVID-19, and RSV.
Likewise, vaccination and boosters offer the most efficient protection against severe disease, complications, and death associated with COVID-19. Although there is currently no vaccine against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), norovirus, and rhinoviruses, following a healthy lifestyle, maintaining personal hygiene, avoiding the consumption of potentially contaminated foods or water, and refraining from close contact with infected people can help reduce the risk of infection. Moreover, various diagnostic tests based on nucleic acid detection and antigen detection methods are available to assist the diagnosis and differentiation of these diseases. Alongside nucleic acid detection tests such as RT-PCR, antigen detection tests such as our Norovirus Rapid Test Kit, RSV Rapid Test Kit, and Influenza A/B Rapid Test Kit can quickly check for infection and deliver accurate results in minutes. Moreover, multiplex assays such as our SARS-CoV-2 + Flu A/B + RSV Combo Rapid Test Kit can aid in the differentiation of these infections for the prevention of further transmission and delays in treatment.