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Flu infections are increasing in the U.S., and so is the likelihood of co-infection of influenza and COVID-19. The newly coined term “flurona” has trended across social media, with many patients under the false impression that flurona is a new variant of COVID-19. Flurona is precisely what it sounds like: having flu and coronavirus at the same time.

Although the term is new, co-infection of COVID-19 and influenza is not. One of the earliest confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. was a co-infection. Moreover, although Los Angeles and Israel just recently reported their first documented cases of flurona, providers have reported seeing the co-occurrence of the viruses in patients for several months now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seasonal flu activity is increasing throughout the U.S. The majority of detected cases are the strain influenza A (H3N2) among kids and young adults, but an increasing number of adults 25 and older are becoming sick as well.

Though co-infection isn’t uncommon, it should be taken seriously as it can complicate treatment and recovery from COVID-19. For example, according to a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis, people who tested positive for both COVID-19 and a second virus had three times the odds of dying compared to those who only had COVID-19 [1].

Distinguishing flu symptoms from those of COVID-19 can be challenging, as both viruses can cause fever, cough, runny nose, fatigue, congestion, headache, change in taste or smell, body aches, and sore throat, with varying degrees of severity. Because of these shared symptoms, testing is needed to confirm the diagnosis.

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Testing is particularly important for patients who are immunocompromised or who have a comorbid condition that puts them at risk (i.e., diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or obesity) so that they can begin treatment as early as possible. One noteworthy difference between the two viruses is that if a patient has COVID-19, it may take them longer to become symptomatic than if they had the flu.

Regarding treatment, supportive care, including resting, hydrating, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers, remains the best line of defense for mild disease. For high-risk patients, doctors may treat certain flu strains with an antiviral such as Tamiflu. COVID-19 antivirals are also utilized under emergency use approval.

The best way for patients to prevent flurona is to get vaccinated against both viruses. The CDC has deemed it safe to receive both vaccines during the same appointment [2].

Sources:

[1] Musuuza, J. S., Watson, L., Parmasad, V., Putman-Buehler, N., Christensen, L., & Safdar, N. (2021). Prevalence and outcomes of co-infection and superinfection with SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS ONE, 16(5), e0251170. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251170

 

[2] Gaudino, L. (2022, January 6). Flurona’: NYC experts warn of COVID and flu amid Omicron surge. NBC New York. https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/coronavirus/flurona-nyc-experts-warn-of-covid-and-flu-amid-omicron-surge/3480688/

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