SAN DIEGO – There’s now a name for people who get COVID-19 and influenza at the same time: flurona.
And while the frequency of the flu in COVID-positive patients appears to be low in the United States, local doctors are more concerned about something they’re calling a “twindemic.”
“We are anticipating a higher than normal flu season this year along with an underlying pandemic,” said Dr. Jyotu Sandhu, a family medicine physician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.
Peak flu season typically runs from January through February. Last year, flu season was virtually nonexistent in San Diego County, due in part to heightened safety precautions taken because of COVID-19. But county public health officials announced the county’s first flu-related death of the season last week.
They say it comes as flu cases in the county are consistently on the rise.
“We didn’t expose ourselves to the virus like we normally would to build our antibodies,” Sandhu said. “Normally, about 50% of the population gets vaccinated to the flu, so if you have an additional 50% who don’t get vaccinated and a whole population who hasn’t been exposed to last year’s strands, well now you have a big title wave of flu waiting to come in.”
Both COVID-19 and the flu are respiratory diseases with common symptoms. According to the CDC, symptoms of both include fever, coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, vomiting, diarrhea or change in or loss of taste or smell.
Symptoms of illness in both tend to show up one or more days after becoming infected, the CDC says.
Thus far, there has only been one publicized case of a woman in Israel who tested positive for both coronavirus and the flu. Getting them at the same time is uncommon, but those who are unvaccinated against both are expected to be more vulnerable.
Sandhu said in a typical year about 50% of the population gets the flu shot and hospitalizations due to the flu average around 200,000. This year, 600,000 flu hospitalizations are expected and a flu vaccination rate of 70-80% would be ideal to keep the numbers down.
“They are both very real,” he said. “They’re both very active, and they’re both happening concurrently so we have to take both seriously. Coronavirus right now is the thing that we’re all focused on, but if you have something else that you’re infected with, it can make the first infection worse.”