What Is ‘Flurona’? Cases of Co-Infections Increase Amid Peak Influenza Season and Omicron Variant Surge
In the United States, most infections are being reported in young children and teens
As the flu season in the United States hits its peak, scattered cases of individuals testing positive for Covid-19 and the flu are emerging, reports Ed Cara for Gizmodo. Cases of so-called "flurona" refer to simultaneous infections of both SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and influenza. Flurona is not a new virus, nor is it an official medical term or diagnosis.
“Yes, it is possible to catch both diseases at the same time,” the World Health Organization (WHO) explains in a statement. “The most effective way to prevent hospitalization and severe Covid-19 and influenza is vaccination with both vaccines.”
Reports of co-infection in the U.S. have occurred since the pandemic began in 2020. For instance, a New York man was seen at a hospital for fever and a severe cough in late February 2020. At this time, the city had not reported any cases of Covid-19. After being swabbed, the man tested positive for influenza, and he was also swabbed for Covid-19. When the results came in few weeks later in early March, he found out he had also tested positive for Covid-19, reported Roxanne Khamsi for the Atlantic in November 2021.
By late summer 2020, experts cautioned of the possibility of a “twindemic” where both Covid-19 and flu cases could threaten to overwhelm hospitals with infected patients, per the Atlantic. However, the rises of co-infection did not occur during the 2020 to 2021 flu season, possibly due to mask-wearing and social distancing, and overall, flu cases were actually lower than usual.
Still, more recently, experts anticipate more co-infection cases as the Omicron variant continues to surge and infect a record-breaking number of Americans during peak flu season, reports Nathan Place for the Independent.
More reported cases of flurona, or a dual infection of the flu virus and coronavirus, have already been reported in various parts of the globe. In the first week of January, Israel confirmed its first case of flurona when an unvaccinated pregnant woman with mild symptoms tested positive for both the seasonal flu and Covid-19, per the Times of Israel.
A growing number of co-infection cases in children are also being reported in the U.S., reports the New York Times’ Amelia Nierenberg. A teenager from Los Angeles tested positive for both Covid-19 and the flu last week after returning from a family vacation in Mexico. Hospitals in South Florida and in Houston, Texas, have also reported flurona cases in children and teens, per the Independent. Officials say this is no surprise since younger age groups are more susceptible to co-infection than adults.
Experts are still debating whether co-infection is more severe than only having Covid-19 alone, per the Independent. With more reports on the rise, doctors and public health experts are emphasizing that vaccines against Covid-19 and influenza are the best way to protect against cases of severe infection, reports Jennifer Hassan for the Washington Post.
Here’s a breakdown of what experts know so far:
Will a Co-Infection Make Individuals Twice as Sick or Worse?
“I expect to see plenty of co-infections (of flu and COVID-19) going forward, but I don’t see anything that suggests it makes COVID infections worse,” says Frank Esper, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases, to USA Today’s Adrianna Rodriguez. “Those are two viral pathogens that we actually have medicines for.”
While a dual infection could cause more complications, it could also trigger an even more robust defense response because immune system can simultaneously create antibodies for multiple pathogens, says Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist who studies influenza at the University of California Irvine, to the New York Times.
Which Groups Are More Susceptible to a Co-Infection?
Immunocompromised individuals and children, especially those who are too young for Covid-19 vaccines, are more likely to develop flurona symptoms.
Children are more likely to get multiple infections at once, like walking Petri dishes, per the New York Times. Children generally experience co-infections more frequently than adults. Despite the presence of two viruses in their systems, children don't seem to become much sicker.
Because children haven't been exposed to most common viruses yet, their immunity has not been built up against different viral strains of the flu, USA Today reports. However, this does not mean that children will be overwhelmed with flurona. Covid-19 cases in children have been milder than those in adults.
Unvaccinated adults are also more susceptible to co-infection. Individuals who refuse one vaccine might refuse other types of vaccines as well, making them more vulnerable to co-infections, as Saad B. Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, tells the New York Times.
What Are the Symptoms of a Coronavirus and Influenza Co-Infection?
Both Covid-19 and seasonal influenza infections affect the respiratory system. They also share comparable symptoms like fever, fatigue, coughing, a runny nose, a sore or scratchy throat, muscle and body aches, and even diarrhea, per the Washington Post.
How Can I Protect Myself and Others?
Respiratory viruses like influenza and Covid-19 are transmitted through droplets or aerosols. These transmission methods occur when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. Droplets and aerosols can also be dispersed through speaking, singing, and breathing. To prevent infection, the WHO encourages getting vaccinated for both Covid-19 and the flu, practicing social distancing, wearing a well-fitted mask, and avoiding overly crowded or poorly ventilated places and settings.