As I wrote before, this pandemic has given us a bunch of new terms, the newest one is “flurona” or contracting both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. It’s not a new disease, but it is worrisome since it could make our public health crisis worse.
This brief article will take a look at this flurona phenomenon and whether it’s something that requires concern.
What is flurona?
Before I write anything else, I want to be clear about a few points about flurona. It is not a new disease. It is not some weird hybridization between influenza and SARS-CoV-2 viruses. It does not mean that those two viruses got together and created some demon spawn. It’s merely a portmanteau of “flu” and “coronavirus”, meaning that the two diseases decide to infect one person at one time.
Moreover, it’s not time to panic — yet.
During the past summer and the surge of the Delta variant, there were cases of simultaneous respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 infection, which I guess wasn’t given a cool name. But RSV isn’t as serious as the flu.
The problem with the flu and COVID-19 is that they have very similar symptoms, although COVID-19 is probably much worse. They both affect the lungs and they both can be deadly for at-risk individuals. But the treatments for each are different, and that’s why testing is so important.
According to the New York Times, flurona cases are growing in the USA. And both the flu and COVID-19 can cause croup, vomiting, diarrhea, and pneumonia along with other signs and symptoms. Unfortunately, those children who are at risk of serious diseases, such as those with underlying heart or lung conditions, can develop a worse disease when they are hit by both at the same time.
During the 2020-21 flu season, the impact of public health measures like stay-at-home orders and mandatory face masks limited cases of flu to one of the lowest levels ever. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, the flu was probably the worst vaccine-preventable disease, as it killed tens of thousands of people across the world every year. But the one tiny silver lining of the pandemic was suppressing flu.
Unfortunately, the 2021-22 flu season is going to hit us pretty strong for a few reasons:
- Public health measures are going to be reduced.
- The anti-COVID-19 vaccine sentiment probably will end up lowering flu vaccine uptake.
- Because there wasn’t a large outbreak of flu last year, the population as a whole may be less immune to the various strains of flu that are circulating.
Are flurona patients going to be sicker than the average flu or COVID-19 patient? There’s not a lot of evidence that has been accumulated, but it’s possible. Your immune system is going to have to fight off two pathogens (which isn’t a problem, your immune system is pretty robust), but if you have anything that reduces the effectiveness of the immune system, from being immunocompromised to having chronic diseases that impact the immune system, flurona could be doubly bad.
There’s another issue. During a normal flu season, hospitals are also flooded with patients, though nothing close to what we’ve seen with COVID-19. A flu outbreak plus the continuing COVID-19 pandemic (now with the Omicron variant) could overwhelm the healthcare system across the world, which has been on the edge of collapse for nearly two years.
Get the vaccines and wear your mask
I was a skeptic of masks very early in the pandemic. I quickly changed my mind with the accumulation of evidence along with my own experience — I haven’t had the flu (I’m vaccinated), a cold, or anything else for over two years. I attribute that to wearing masks and keeping myself away from other people.
Along with masks (and washing your hands), the vaccines basically protect you from the flurona. Both the various COVID-19 vaccines and the seasonal flu vaccine are easily available, are very safe, and are very effective. They absolutely save lives.
You do not want to spend time in the hospital fighting two diseases at once when both are ultimately preventable. Go get your flu vaccine and get your COVID-19 vaccine. You can do them at the same time.