As COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in many countries, respiratory viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) resurfaced, resulting in a rise in hospitalizations and deaths. A recent study published in Scientific Reports examined the symptom profiles of various respiratory infections, including SARS-CoV-2, and highlighted the importance of diagnosing and managing these infections effectively. The study found that the symptom profile of SARS-CoV-2 became more similar to other respiratory viruses over time, with increased frequency of cough, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat. Fever remained more common in influenza cases. The study emphasized the importance of multipathogen virological surveillance and the use of diagnostic tests to distinguish between influenza and SARS-CoV-2, especially for high-risk patients. The evolving nature of SARS-CoV-2 symptoms, particularly with the emergence of different variants, underscores the need for continuous monitoring and targeted diagnostics to effectively manage respiratory infections.
The study utilized data from two household community cohort studies conducted in England and Wales, which monitored the epidemiology of various respiratory viruses. Participants reported symptoms through weekly surveys, allowing investigators to analyze symptom frequencies during illnesses caused by different respiratory viruses. The data revealed that as SARS-CoV-2 variants emerged, the symptomatology increasingly resembled that of other respiratory viruses. The Omicron variants showed a significant increase in the frequency of cough, sneezing, runny nose, and sore throat. Fever remained more common among influenza cases, but the proportion of SARS-CoV-2 illnesses meeting the World Health Organization’s case definition for acute respiratory infection significantly increased with the Omicron variants.
The changes in SARS-CoV-2 symptomatology could be attributed to increased transmissibility and changes in population immunity due to natural infections and vaccinations. The growing similarity between SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory illnesses poses challenges for surveillance and prevention efforts. Distinguishing between influenza and SARS-CoV-2 infections through diagnostic tests remains crucial, especially for high-risk patients eligible for antiviral treatment. Continuous multipathogen surveillance and targeted diagnostics are key components in managing respiratory infections effectively. Understanding the changing nature of symptoms and their associations with viral variants is essential for the ongoing battle against these respiratory viruses.
Geismar C, Nguyen V, Fragaszy E, et al. Symptom profiles of community cases infected by influenza, RSV, rhinovirus, seasonal coronavirus, and SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. Sci Rep. 2023;13(1):12511. Published 2023 Aug 2. doi:10.1038/s41598-023-38869-1