Project PROTECTS launches to track acute respiratory infections across the United States

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The City University of New York (CUNY) Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health (ISPH) and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH), in collaboration with Pfizer, are initiating a critical two-year prospective epidemiologic study in the spring of 2024 to track acute respiratory infections across the United States.

Project PROTECTS (Prospective Respiratory Outcomes from Tracking and Evaluating Community-based TeSting) builds on the CHASING COVID Cohort Study, which has monitored SARS-CoV-2 infection rates and associated risk factors through questionnaires and at-home serological testing since March 2020. The cohort's participants have shown remarkable commitment, with the study recently concluding its 22nd questionnaire and fourth round of serological testing. "The sustained engagement of the CHASING COVID Cohort Study participants has made the cohort one of the most enduring and thorough community-based studies of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, and represents an invaluable resource for ongoing scientific inquiry," says CUNY SPH Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology Denis Nash, who is also the principal investigator of the study.

This new project will harness both at-home rapid antigen and PCR tests to investigate the incidence and symptom severity of several major respiratory viruses (SARS-CoV-2, RSV, and influenza A, and influenza B). "The study will address significant gaps in our understanding of the prolonged effects of these viruses on daily life, in the context of existing vaccines, background immunity, and treatments," says Nash.

To achieve the study aims, Project PROTECTS will enroll up to 6,000 participants, starting with individuals who were engaged in the CHASING COVID cohort. Participants will complete quarterly questionnaires on existing symptoms, health status, quality of life, occupational activities, vaccination history, past respiratory illnesses, and healthcare utilization using a study-specific web platform and mobile app.

When participants exhibit symptoms of an acute respiratory infection, they will self-administer a multi-pathogen rapid test. It is administered in the same way as at-home SARS-CoV-2 tests. However, it simultaneously tests for SARS-CoV-2, RSV, influenza A, and influenza B, and can also detect co-infections. Participants may also be asked to collect nasal swabs and saliva for PCR testing. Participants may complete additional questionnaires over the ensuing six months, with measures detailing symptoms, healthcare engagements and treatments, and new clinical diagnoses.

The findings are expected to inform future public health strategies and interventions to mitigate the impact of severe respiratory viruses on population health outcomes."

Denis Nash, Distinguished Professor of Epidemiology, CUNY SPH

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