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The importance of virus control extends far beyond the pandemic

The pandemic Covid-19 has actualized and clarified the importance of knowledge about virus control. RISE is now investing in competence and capacity building in this area in order to meet demands for pandemic and epidemic preparedness. Of outmost importance is the capacity to support partners from industry and academia with advice and research on preventive work against the spread of infection and inactivation of viruses.

The ongoing pandemic has clearly revealed the consequences of insufficient pandemic preparedness and the importance of preventive work to counteract the spread of disease-causing viruses. Most viruses that have spread to humans in recent years, which have led to both epidemics (Ebola and Zika virus) and pandemics (SARS-CoV-2 and influenza), have been caused by relatively well-known viruses that have been underestimated.

In order for effective virucidal products and knowledge about inactivation of new viruses to be available before the next pandemic hits the world, continuous research on the properties and weaknesses of new viruses is required. However, it is not just about pandemic preparedness but also about preventive work regarding viruses that cause, for example, the common cold, seasonal flu and winter vomiting disease, all of which have an impact on public health and the national economy.

– Norovirus alone, which causes winter vomiting disease, annually gives rise to global costs for healthcare of 4.2 billion dollars and in addition 60.3 billion dollars in indirect societal costs, says Erik Nygren, researcher at RISE. Furthermore, the traditional boundary between infectious and non-infectious diseases has been blurred, as it has been shown that some viral infections act as triggers for cancer, or other non-infectious diseases and chronic conditions.

Norovirus alone, which causes winter vomiting disease, annually gives rise to global costs for healthcare of 4.2 billion dollars and in addition 60.3 billion dollars in indirect societal costs

In addition to reduced risk of personal suffering and financial impact, the societal effects of effective infection control measures against viruses also indirectly include reduced risk of spreading antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Preventive work with hygiene and reduced spread of viral disease in society also results in reduced incorrect use of antibiotics, and in the long run, less development of AMR. The importance of effective measures and products against the spread of infection and viruses therefore extends far beyond the current pandemic.

More services around virus management

Within RISE, we already today have a great deal of expertise regarding microbiology, the spread of infection and prevention, as well as efficacy testing of products, surfaces and materials.

– At RISE, we are good at meeting the industry's and society's need for tests involving bacteria, yeast, and mold. But we have realized that we need to strengthen our virus management service. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has become extra clear, as we have received a large number of inquiries from the industry regarding inactivation of viruses, says Erik Nygren.

In order to meet the increased need for virus management services, RISE is now creating an organization that can serve various industries within business and academic partners.

– We coordinate our competence and in-demand knowledge and create infrastructure to meet both existing needs and expected future needs. If there are future virus pandemics, we need to be better equipped than we are today, he says.

RISE will thus be able to offer more services mainly through analyzes of inactivation and prevention of viruses.

– It is about evaluating the effectiveness of hygiene products, chemicals, processes, and physical methods, etc. An important part also includes strategic advice and risk assessments regarding various manufacturing processes and optimization regarding inactivation of viruses.

New research project on virus inactivation

During the pandemic, RISE has supported Swedish authorities and companies by participating in several projects concerning the reduced spread of SARS-CoV-2, e.g., by establishing a methodology for tests of mouth protection and hand disinfection, by performing risk assessments and mathematically modeling inactivation of viruses, and by validating diagnostic tests.

– During the course of these projects, we have realized that in Sweden there is a lack of both capacity and actors who can meet the industry's need for laboratory work with viruses and virus inactivation. In addition, publicly available data regarding inactivation of many viruses are incomplete or completely missing, which makes microbial risk assessment of manufacturing processes and products harder to perform in a reliable way, says Erik Nygren.

Most pathogenic viruses are inactivated relatively easily by, for example, disinfectants or heat, but the sensitivity varies significantly between different types of viruses.

– One limitation is that for many types of viruses there is a lack of reliable inactivation data regarding the effectiveness of combinations of different physical and chemical factors. This means that in many processes unnecessarily large amounts of energy and chemicals are consumed to be on the safe side. In addition, some chemicals commonly used for virus-inactivating have been associated with an increased risk of development of antibiotic resistance, which indicates that new solutions will be needed in a sustainable future, says Erik Nygren.

Supports the UN sustainability goals

3. Good health and well-being
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
12. Responsible consumption and production

RISE has been granted research support from Bo Rydin's Foundation for Scientific Research in a project concerning methods for studying virus inactivation. The project is expected to strengthen Swedish industry's competitiveness and innovative ability, as well as society's preparedness in the areas of infection prevention and microbial diagnostics. This will be done by establishing and exploring methodologies for quantifying viruses and mapping virucidal effects from hygiene and cleaning products.

– Specifically, we will establish methods for measuring virus inactivation. In addition, we will evaluate methods for identifying viruses in the environment where hygiene products are used. In combination thes methods will allow the generation of reliable data regarding chemical and thermal inactivation of relevant disease-causing viruses, thereby contributing to future risk assessments being safer and more accurate, Erik Nygren clarifies.

– Through good knowledge and understanding of disease-causing viruses, as well as the properties that regulate viability and the course of infection, it is possible to promote preventive work against the spread of viral infections in society, Erik Nygren concludes.

About virus

Viruses occur naturally in all parts of the world and affect human and animal health as well as the earth's ecosystems. It is now estimated that there are 10^31 different viruses on earth, of which 320,000 are believed to be able to infect mammals.

Viruses that cause direct diseases in humans are most often derived from animals, other humans, or insects. Both strictly human viruses (e.g. HIV) and zoonotic viruses that infect both animals and humans (e.g. SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses) have historically had very far-reaching effects on both public health and the global economy.



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