‘Flurona’: As Omicron spreads during flu season, some Americans are catching both viruses at once

‘Yes, it is possible to catch both diseases at the same time,’ says the World Health Organization

Nathan Place
New York
Thursday 06 January 2022 17:16
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A teenager in Houston. Another teen in Los Angeles. Multiple children in Florida. As 2022 begins, more and more cases are emerging in the United States of “flurona” – a combination of Covid-19 and the flu.

“Yes, it is possible to catch both diseases at the same time,” the World Health Organisation says. “The most effective way to prevent hospitalization and severe Covid-19 and influenza is vaccination with both vaccines.”

Co-infections of Covid and influenza are nothing new – the first one in the US was reported in February 2020, when the pandemic had barely begun. But as the new Omicron variant infects record-breaking numbers of Americans, just as flu season reaches its peak, some experts are anticipating a lot more “flurona” cases.

Whether or not the combination is any more severe than a normal Covid case, however, is up for debate.

“I expect to see plenty of co-infections going forward, but I don’t see anything that suggests it makes Covid infections worse,” Dr Frank Esper, an infectious diseases expert in Cleveland, told USA Today. “Those are two viral pathogens that we actually have medicines for.”

Last week, a teenager in Los Angeles tested positive for both Covid and the flu after returning home from a family trip to Mexico. Meanwhile, several hospitals in South Florida reported “flurona” cases in children. And in Houston, Texas, 17-year-old Alec Zierlein spent Christmas isolating in his room after he tested positive for both viruses.

“I ended up getting tested the day before Christmas for strep throat, flu and Covid,” Alec told KTRK. “I didn’t think I had any of the three. It felt like a mild cold.”

One thing these cases have in common is they all occurred in very young people. Experts say that’s no surprise, because children are far more likely than adults to get co-infections.

“Hands down, the No 1 predisposition for having more than one virus at the same time is your age, and it’s really children under 5,” Dr Esper told USA Today. “They all have viruses running rampant and swap them like trading cards.”

But with Covid vaccines only available to Americans aged 5 and up, that means preschool-age children are both the most likely to catch “flurona” and the least protected against it.

Fortunately, kids are far less likely than adults to be hospitalised with or die of Covid-19. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, only 0.00 to 0.02 per cent of childhood Covid cases in the US have resulted in death.

But those who are old enough to get vaccinated, experts say, should do so for both viruses – a lesson Alec learned the hard way.

“I’m not a huge fan of shots in general,” the Texas teen told KTRK. “But if I had gone back, I definitely would have taken that flu shot. It wasn’t the best Christmas Day, having to stay in my room.”

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