What is 'flurona' and how dangerous is it?

Posted at 1:41 PM, Jan 10, 2022

You may have heard about the ‘flurona,’ the combined infection of the seasonal flu and COVID-19.

Last week, Israel reported its first flurona case and the Internet and social media went wild, but it turns out this coinfection has been around for quite some time.

It is not a superbug. Instead, it is a made-up term to refer to the coinfection of the seasonal flu and COVID-19, and it is unlikely to contract both at the same time.

“It’s going to be based really upon your individual risk factors and what’s going on in your community,” said Dr. Eric Hill, an Emergency Medicine Physician at the Medical Center of Aurora in Colorado. “Obviously, if you’re in an area of really high spread of both, your risk is much higher than if you’re in an area that has less flu activity or less COVID activity.”

Around this time in early 2021, the United States saw hardly any flu cases as the second round of COVID lockdowns and masking helped keep it at bay, but this year, that does not seem to be the case as the last week of 2021 saw the number of flu-related physician visits in the country rise to 5%, twice what it normally is.

With the omicron variant of COVID-19 running its course and flu cases on the rise, it is not unheard of to contract both viruses simultaneously, although it is unlikely. A study out of China in the early stages of the pandemic showed out of a sample of 99 COVID patients showed 1 in 8 (12.5%) had a coinfection with the flu.

It is worth repeating that the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are different viruses, so being vaccinated for one of the viruses will not protect you against the other.

The same goes for contracting both viruses; just because your body might be fighting one, does not mean it will be good at fighting the other. An analysis of more than 100 COVID studies from last spring showed people who tested positive for COVID and another pathogen were three times as likely to die than someone who only tested positive for COVID.

“If you have one virus your immune system might be weakened, and so, you could potentially have more problems,” said Dr. Hill. “Just because you have COVID, it’s not a protective thing that will prevent you from getting the flu, so if you did have both at the same time, you could actually get the same symptoms and they’d work differently so they could compound and make you sicker.”

While that might sound scary, it is not guaranteed and the silver lining: protecting yourself from COVID-19 through hand washing, masking, and social distancing is a great way to also protect yourself against the flu.