Upper respiratory viral infections continue to have a significant impact on lives across the world. In any given year, the average American adult gets 2-3 colds, while children get even more 1, and 5-20% of the US population gets infected with the flu 2. This equates to more than 500 million upper respiratory viral infections (URVIs), hundreds of millions of doctor visits, and several hundred thousand deaths 3.
Because URVIs affect so many people, the economic costs are significant. In the US alone, more than $27 billion is spent each year on direct medical expenses related to URVIs, plus an additional $100 billion in indirect costs related to absenteeism and premature deaths 6,7,8.
URVIs can be broken down into influenza and non-influenza illnesses. For influenza, there are available vaccines that can help to prevent infection or minimize symptom severity, however the efficacy of these vaccines is highly dependent upon how well the viruses selected match the viruses circulating that season. In a year with a good influenza vaccine match, overall efficacy can reach 60% 4, but if the match is poor, it results in much lower efficacy. In 2014, for example, the CDC estimated that the overall efficacy of the influenza vaccine was only 23%, which led to 45% more influenza-related hospitalizations than the previous all-time high 5.
There are also several approved antiviral treatments for influenza, however they are only effective in reducing symptom severity/duration and in preventing flu complications, such as pneumonia 10.
For non-influenza illnesses, which represent approximately 85% of all URVIs 11, there are no available antiviral treatments or vaccines.