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Scientists warn of mutant viruses after Covid-19

Research by the University of Sydney shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a strong impact on winter viruses in Australia.

The study documented how the Covid-19 pandemic produced a major shift in the incidence and genetics of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in Australia.

This is a common virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. However, there is still a risk of severe illness, especially for infants and the elderly.

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The pandemic has disrupted the seasonal pattern of RSV, a key member of the “winter virus” group, the authors say. In 2020, the winter RSV epidemic did not appear due to travel restrictions and Covid-19 infection control measures.

However, RSV was one of the first respiratory pathogens to recur after Covid-19. Experts have sequenced the large RSV outbreaks that occurred off-season during the summer of 2021 in Australia.

The outbreaks coincided with the easing of Covid-19 control measures. In addition, previous strains of RSV have disappeared, new strains predominate in Western Australia, New South Wales…

“Our genetic studies show that most of the formerly RSV strains are extinct. Only a single line survived the quarantines,” said study leader Dr John-Sebastian Eden.

“The group of influenza strains circulating before and after Covid-19 also varied greatly, leading to challenges in the selection of vaccine components and the annual timing of injections. For example, flu season in Australia has started much earlier than in previous years,” said Dr Eden.

There is currently no RSV vaccine. But scientists are focused on developing vaccines and treatments.

“We need to be vigilant – some viruses have disappeared but are likely to flare up again in the near future, at unusual times and with greater impact,” Dr Eden warned.

“We need to prepare for the usual large, non-seasonal RSV outbreaks. The health system must be prepared.”

An Yen (Follow University of Sydney)

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