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Virus Expert Says What to "Worry About" This Winter

Are we in for a twindemic?
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Just as the coronavirus pandemic seems in retreat, experts are looking cautiously ahead to winter, when, traditionally, cases have risen. Will they, and what about influenza and other viruses? A number of virus experts spoke on SiriusXM's Doctor Radio's  "Doctor Radio Reports" with host Dr. Marc Siegel. Read on for five pieces of life-saving advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Here's What to Expect This Winter, Says One Virus Expert

woman coughing into elbow while lying down on sofa in the living room.

"What we're going to be looking for and what we're worried about, may be two different things," Dr. Daniel Sterman, NYULH Pulmonary/Critical Care Director, says. "I think that as much as we were affected by the second or third surge, depending on where you are in United States last, last, fall and winter, we were lucky in some respects. And we were lucky because if you remember, there were predictions from Dr. Redfield, the CDC and others, that there was going to be a conjunction between a bad flu season and COVID-19, and that would magnify the effects of the pandemic, increase in number of patients with respiratory failure, put greater pressure on our ICU's, lead to more limitation of resources, including ventilators and create chaos. And we were lucky last year that we had almost no flu season whatsoever in the United States. And so this year, I think that there is some uncertainty as to the degree of flu season. This summer… we've seen a resurgence of some RSV—" that's Respiratory syncytial virus—"even among adults. Usually it's seen more among children, but we've seen that among adults. We've seen some rhinovirus pneumonias, which are relatively rare, and we're worried about other viruses, obviously like metapneumovirus that can also cause significant respiratory disease. So I think there's some concern, and one of the reasons why we didn't see a lot of respiratory viral infections other than SARS-CoV-2 last fall and winter was the common use of masking last fall and winter, which protected much of us. So the question is will masking be as common this fall in winter as it was a year ago? And will we have the same level of protection from respiratory virus? So I think there's a lot of unknown. I think that we're, we're anxious about it. And I don't know that we know, have a good prediction, as to where we're going to be in six to eight weeks."


Virus Expert Said This About the Possibility of a "COVID Pill"

Concept of antiviral drug medication in hand for new COVID19 Coronavirus

"At the speed that these companies are working and the fact that we're leveraging a lot of understanding of viruses that have been developed in terms of antiviral agents that have been developed over the last decades, I think that it's very likely that we get to a pill," said Mass General VIC Director, Dr. Mark Poznansky. "I think the most important aspect of that is that it's safe and efficacious. And I think that with regards to the Merck product it's very exciting that there's a new product out there that in initial studies looks like it's protective of severe and moderate outcomes of the disease. Time will tell with any new drug that it bears out in larger studies and the safety profile and thousands, or hundreds of thousands of individuals bears out that it's safe. But of course, this is a very exciting new step and the big pharmaceutical companies that have stepped into this breach, it's absolutely essential to see that drug development occur. We want to get to a Tamiflu for COVID-19."

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Were Pfizer's Two Vaccine Shots Given Too Close Together, Making Boosters Necessary?

Glass bottle with logo Pfizer and BioNTech in the doctor's hand.

"Actually, this is a interesting story for me personally…because at the time when we started the vaccination campaign and the countries around the world, like the UK and also the U.S. started a larger difference between the two doses, I said, okay, we should consider giving the first dose and then maybe wait a little bit because maybe we will do it faster the first dose, and then we'll do the second dose," says Fmr. WHO Executive Board Member, Prof. Itmar Grotto. "I mean, first finish the rollout of the first and then go to the second without giving three weeks apart. But the scientific community in Israel did not listen to this advice, and unfortunately the second dose was given I think too soon. Because we know that we see in other countries as well the number of 8-12 weeks apart we see that people are more protected. So it means that maybe the schedule should be rare thinking. Of course this tool should be developed by the manufacturers with some guidance from the FDA, but I think the scheduling will change. It will change, and we don't know the final schedule of this vaccine yet. It could be 1, 2, 3… What we started with, but the protective say it started with three doses, and then moved on to a double dose of the first, and a double dose of the second. So it means that things are changing not only on the COVID- vaccine, something regular in the world of vaccines."

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On People's Fears About Drugs That Induce COVID Virus Mutations

Medical staff work in the intensive care ward for COVID-19 patients

"Any drug that interferes with RNA or DNA of the virus, you always have concerns that have to be tested and put aside in a scientific manner about what they might do to the machinery in your own body that makes RNA and DNA," says Poznansky. "So, these are absolutely top of mind for both the companies that make these drugs and for the FDA that anything that's manipulating viral genetic material could, and it doesn't mean it will, but it could have the possibility of manipulating your genetic material. However, will be multiple drugs that are being developed that affect viral DNA and RNA function, which have no or minimal effects on anything to do with your own cells, your own bodies in it, and are used on a regular basis for patients currently. So I think the history is clear that the safety component from this point of view is top of mind for the regulatory officials and for the companies, and it is always addressed ahead of whether the drug actually works or not."

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How to Stay Safe Out There

Female patient smiling behind the face mask and with her eyes, while getting flu shot

Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Alek Korab
Alek Korab is a Co-Founder and Managing Editor of the ETNT Health channel on Eat This, Not That! Read more about Alek