“Flurona” isn’t a new Covid-19 variant. Nor is it a new disease or any kind of medical term.
The word flurona has gained popularity as a way to describe the condition of testing positive for both Covid-19 and the flu at the same time. As flu season picks up in the U.S. and in other countries, some hospitals and Covid-19 testing sites in California and Texas in the U.S., and overseas in Israel are reporting instances of people having both influenza and Covid-19.
Co-infections of two separate respiratory diseases aren’t a new phenomenon—and reports of people testing positive for Covid-19 and the flu date to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, infectious disease experts say.
Here’s what you need to know about flurona, or having both the flu and Covid-19 simultaneously.
What is “flurona”?
It is possible for a person to test positive for both the flu and Covid-19 at the same time, according to the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flurona is an unofficial way to describe this, combining the words flu and coronavirus, according to a definition of the word published by Dictionary.com this week.
“This is not a new entity. We should not be hung up on these labels,” said Janak Patel, director of the division of infectious disease and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, where three patients have tested positive for both diseases. “We have seen virus co-infections all the time.”
The emergence of the new word comes as influenza activity picks up around the U.S., particularly in the eastern and central regions of the country, according to the CDC. Health experts anticipated this flu season could be worse than last year’s season, when many protocols like mask-wearing and social distancing were in place to slow the spread of Covid-19 also significantly lowered that of influenza.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that typically spreads in the U.S. from October through May, with many cases recorded December through February.
Will the number of co-infections rise?
The simultaneous spread of influenza and the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which has fueled record levels of new Covid-19 cases, could mean the number of co-infections might grow, infectious disease experts said.
The U.S. will see more co-infections of influenza and Covid-19, said Timothy Brewer, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. He said they are two different viruses and they wouldn’t combine to create a new one.
“None of this was unexpected or unusual,” Dr. Brewer said. “These are viruses that are behaving exactly how we would expect them to behave.”
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health doesn’t track or investigate individual flu cases. A representative said the department has seen tests with positive results for influenza and Covid-19 simultaneously but couldn’t say how frequently this has happened.
“Concurrent infection with more than one respiratory virus is exceedingly common and there is no reason to expect that SARS-CoV-2 should be an exception to this rule,” a representative from the Los Angeles County Department of Health said.
What are the symptoms of flurona?
Covid-19 and the flu are two separate respiratory diseases with their own treatment options and vaccines.
The different viruses share some similarities, including symptoms, ways of spreading, types of people at higher risk for severe illness and steps that can be taken to slow the spread of each of these diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
Covid-19 and the flu share many symptoms, including cough, fatigue, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, body aches and a runny or stuffy nose, among others, according to the CDC. With such similar symptoms, it is hard to distinguish whether a person has Covid-19, the flu, both or neither without testing, experts say.
“There are no specific symptoms that can tell you you have both infections at the same time,” said Jonathan Grein, director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Are the flu and Covid-19 more dangerous together?
There isn’t abundant data or research to say whether having Covid-19 and the flu at the same time would result in more severe illness than if a person had just one disease, experts said.
A December 2021 review published in “Frontiers in Public Health” found having the two diseases at the same time “had no effect on overall mortality.” It cited a dozen studies that examined the severity of a co-infection of Covid-19 and influenza.
Infectious disease experts said there is limited data and experience with this specific kind of co-infection, though there haven’t been clear indications that co-infections led to more severe illness.
“Of course, common sense would dictate being infected with two viruses is probably not good,” Dr. Grein said. “That being said, we just don’t have enough data, and we haven’t seen clear evidence of worse outcomes with both infections.”
Experts urge Americans to get vaccinated—against Covid-19 and the flu—to protect themselves against severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Write to Jennifer Calfas at email@example.com
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