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'Flurona' is real, but don't panic -- it's common to get two viruses at once

Tom Avril, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

No, flurona is not some scary new variant of the coronavirus. And — do we really need to say this? — it is not an actual scientific term.

But the phenomenon of "coinfection" with influenza and the coronavirus is real and, to those in the medical community, not the least bit surprising. A person can be infected with multiple viruses at the same time — or with a virus and some other type of pathogen, such as bacteria or parasites.

"It's a natural occurrence," says Isabella Cattadori, an associate professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University.

That's not to say it's a good idea.

Nearly two years ago, when British researchers identified some of the first cases of flu plus COVID-19, they calculated that these patients were twice as likely to die as those with COVID alone.

So far in the pandemic, these coinfections seem to have been fairly uncommon — especially last winter, when the rate of flu cases was unusually low (a trend that experts attributed to all the social distancing). But with flu on the rise again this winter, physicians say that's all the more reason to engage in sensible precautions. Both viruses are transmitted through the air, so with both, the risk can be reduced by avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated spaces and by wearing masks.

 

And in both cases, there are effective vaccines. As in most years, this season's flu shot is not a perfect match for the strains in circulation, but that's no reason not to get an injection, says Thomas Fekete, a professor at Temple University's Katz School of Medicine. Every layer of defense helps the individual, as well as those who may be more vulnerable.

"Whatever you do to reduce your risk," he said, "you're also protecting people around you."

At least four patients at Temple University Hospital have tested positive for both flu and COVID, he said. Thomas Jefferson University Hospital officials say they've seen a few cases, as well. Very likely, Fekete said, more people are infected with both viruses outside the hospital setting but have not been identified, as most people with respiratory symptoms are not tested for the flu.

Though infections with more than one virus are common, the details of how the immune system responds are complicated, depending on such factors as timing and the types of viruses.

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