Written by Serena McNeiff, HealthDay Reporter>
Monday, January 10, 2022 — It’s a COVID phenomenon that has, thus far, gone relatively unnoticed: You can have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.
Thanks to the Internet, it even has a name – “flurona”. And that’s likely to happen more often this particular winter, as flu season begins and the highly contagious Omicron variant continues.
While the idea of fighting both the flu and COVID-19 may sound terrifying, the same measures used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 also work against the flu, including masking and social distancing. Most importantly, there are vaccines available for both viruses. Vaccines protect against severe infection, even if you are lucky enough to have fluorona.
Florona is not a distinct disease or a new variant, said Dr. Alison Messina, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. It is diagnosed by more than one pathogen at a time.
Co-infections are more common than you think. You can catch two, three or more viruses at once, including COVID-19. “It’s possible that everyone will have had a co-infection at some point,” Messina said.
Long before the latest wave of Florona coverage, doctors were facing all different types of COVID-19 co-infections. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April 2020, researchers identified COVID-19 patients who were infected with viruses including rhinovirus, enterovirus (which are often the cause of the common cold), and adenovirus (which can cause colds or other symptoms). Symptoms are similar to influenza), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which can cause severe illness in young children and the elderly.
Cases of Florona have also been reported throughout the pandemic, even as early as February 2020, when a man in Queens, New York tested positive for the flu and COVID-19. Wide awareness of the phenomenon began to emerge last week, after Times of Israel She announced that a pregnant woman had a common infection that the publication called flurona. Other cases have been reported in various parts of the United States, including Houston, Florida and Los Angeles.
Currently, co-infection with COVID-19 and influenza is rare, and will likely remain that way if influenza activity continues to be suppressed.
Over the past two years, the United States and many parts of the world have experienced historically low levels of influenza. The flu appears to have been kept away by all of the COVID precautions used during the pandemic, such as lockdowns, concealment and social distancing.
“All of those things that you do to prevent yourself from getting COVID are probably the same things you can do to prevent the flu as well,” Messina said.
With the relaxation of social distancing measures in the fall of 2021, many experts fear the flu season will return in retaliation, arguing that flu vaccinations have fallen and the general population has reduced immunity to the virus.
While flu season has so far been less severe than many had feared, that can change quickly and easily.
“In most years, we typically see a flu peak anywhere between November and December, January and February, so I don’t think we can say yet how bad flu season will be,” Messina said. “It could still get worse.”
Dr. Sonia Gandhi, an infectious disease specialist and associate medical officer at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, said Florona is likely to become more common if that happens.
“If we start seeing more influenza in the community, we could start to see co-infection if COVID is still very prevalent,” Gandhi said.
But some cases of Florona may go undetected. Like respiratory viruses, COVID-19 and influenza tend to cause similar symptoms. It would be hard to tell you have a joint infection without being tested for both, and your health care provider will usually run flu tests. Patients with mild COVID-19 infection who are not hospitalized may not find out if they have a fluorona condition.
Due to its low level of influenza activity, very few cases of fluorona have been studied to understand its potential effects on patients. But experts seem to agree that having COVID-19 and influenza together isn’t ideal.
“In general, co-infection with two deadly respiratory pathogens is never a good thing,” Gandhi said. “I think in theory you could imagine if your immune system was trying to fight off a serious infection, it would be stressful.”
Influenza and COVID-19 are respiratory viruses that attack the same area of the body: the nose, throat, and lungs. Also, patients with compromised immune systems or underlying medical conditions are more likely to develop severe infections with both viruses.
“What we worry about coronavirus and influenza is that they both have the potential to be more dangerous viruses than some of the other viruses we’re seeing. Will that lead to more serious disease? I think the jury is still out on that, but that’s it,” Messina said.
Fortunately, there are treatments available for both viruses. To avoid the possibility of fluorosis entirely, or to reduce potential damage, vaccinations make a big difference, according to Messina.
“Everyone over the age of 6 months is eligible for the flu vaccine. Of course, children over the age of 5 can be vaccinated against the coronavirus as well,” Messina said. “So, I think the best thing you can do to try to avoid that happening is to be on the lookout for both of those vaccines.”
- Sonia Gandhi, MD, vice president for medical affairs, and associate medical officer, Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles
- Alison Messina, MD, chief, pediatric infectious diseases, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida.
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Posted Jan 2022