Threat From Non-COVID Infectious Diseases Looms

February 19, 2021
Saskia v. Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC
Saskia v. Popescu, PhD, MPH, MA, CIC

As all resources and attention were focused on COVID-19 for the past year, many other infectious diseases were neglected. Here’s what we need to monitor.

Reports of new outbreaks is not exactly what anyone wants to hear right now. We’re still struggling against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). From novel variants to challenges with vaccine distribution, we’re not out of the woods yet. Moreover, it’s very likely COVID-19 will be endemic as total elimination is exceedingly difficult. Sadly, this doesn’t mean though, that other

infectious diseases simply decide to close shop and take a day off. Even worse, as all resources and attention were focused on COVID-19 for the past year, many other infectious diseases were neglected. Here are some infectious disease topics that we should be keeping our eyes on but also that serve as a reminder that health is global.

Outbreaks of Ebola in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Currently there are outbreaks of Ebola virus diseases (EVD) across two countries—Guinea and the DRC. Both countries have experienced previous outbreaks and unfortunately were severely impacted. Currently, Guinea has reported 10 suspected cases and five deaths, as well as 115 contacts requiring monitoring. In the DRC, this is considered a resurgence of its outbreak that spanned from 2018 to 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also issued an alert to the surrounding countries and is focusing on vaccination efforts.

What does this mean for infection preventionists(IPs)? As we learned in 2014, an outbreak anywhere poses a concern everywhere. The impact cases of Ebola can have on a health care system can be severe and even more so when ill-prepared. While we all work to respond to COVID-19, take a moment to dust off the Ebola plans from 2014/2016, see what needs updating, if you can have time to update some education and training. With so much focus on COVID-19 and the pandemic fatigue, a change in topic can be refreshing and reinvigorate the focus on biopreparedness. Moreover, this is a good time to discuss global health and that often when our attention is on one outbreak, it can distract from other health issues. Continued preparedness and response means we can step back and see the whole picture.

Novel Orthonairovirus

Try saying that five times! A recent publication identified a novel orthoairovirus was identified in China when it was associated with a febrile illness in humans. Prthoairovirus is a large genus that includes viruses like Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever orthonairoviruses and various tick-transmitted viruses. The authors note that this virus is called Songliv virus (SGLV) and “patients who reported being bitten by ticks in Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China. SGLV shared similar genomic and morphological features with orthonairoviruses and phylogenetically formed a unique clade in Tamdy orthonairovirus of the Nairoviridae family. The isolated SGLV induced cytopathic effects in human hepatoma cells in vitro. SGLV infection was confirmed in 42 hospitalized patients analyzed between 2017 and 2018, with the main clinical manifestations being headache, fever, depression, fatigue and dizziness. More than two-thirds (69%) of patients generated virus-specific antibody responses in the acute phase. Taken together, these results suggest that this newly discovered orthonairovirus is associated with human febrile illness in China.” As we learn more about this and the cases, this serves as a good reminder that emerging infectious diseases aren’t going away and that continued investment in not only public health, but also health care biopreparedness is critical.