Secondary infections are frequent complications of viral respiratory infections, but the potential consequence of SARS-CoV-2 coinfection with common pulmonary pathogens is poorly understood. We report that coinfection of human ACE2–transgenic mice with sublethal doses of SARS-CoV-2 and Streptococcus pneumoniae results in synergistic lung inflammation and lethality. Mortality was observed regardless of whether SARS-CoV-2 challenge occurred before or after establishment of sublethal pneumococcal infection. Increased bacterial levels following coinfection were associated with alveolar macrophage depletion, and treatment with murine GM-CSF reduced numbers of lung bacteria and pathology and partially protected from death. However, therapeutic targeting of IFNs, an approach that is effective against influenza coinfections, failed to increase survival. Combined vaccination against both SARS-CoV-2 and pneumococci resulted in 100% protection against subsequent coinfection. The results indicate that when seasonal respiratory infections return to prepandemic levels, they could lead to an increased incidence of lethal COVID-19 superinfections, especially among the unvaccinated population.
Tarani Kanta Barman, Amit K. Singh, Jesse L. Bonin, Tanvir Noor Nafiz, Sharon L. Salmon, Dennis W. Metzger