‘Flurona’ Reports Are on the Rise. How Worried Should You Be?
Reports of “flurona” have been circulating in recent days. No, it’s not a new COVID-19 variant—“flurona” is how people are describing the rising number of simultaneous novel coronavirus and influenza virus infections. This week, many outlets covered news of a young pregnant person in Israel testing positive for both the flu and COVID-19, dubbing it the first reported case of flurona. (The patient, who was not vaccinated against either virus, was already in the hospital when they were diagnosed with both viruses and had mild symptoms, The Independent reports.)
While the term flurona and the coverage of these recent cases is new, these double infections have been known to happen since the beginning of the pandemic. For instance, we know that there were dual cases of the flu and COVID-19 in China in January 2020 and New York in February 2020, The Atlantic reported in November 2021.
So, where is flurona spreading now and how worried should you be? Here’s what to know.
Where is flurona spreading right now?
In addition to Israel, recently documented cases of flurona have been making headlines in a number of countries, including Brazil, Hungary, and in U.S. states including California, Texas, and Florida, according to the Washington Post. Much like new variants of the coronavirus, official detection and case counts tend to lag behind the reality, and there’s no reason to think flurona has only occurred in the particular places it’s been documented.
How common is flurona?
While flurona is still thought to be a relatively rare occurrence, having two simultaneous infections like the flu and COVID is not. “Both are common, so it is not unexpected that some people would be infected at the same time,” Dan Barouch, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News. There is research showing that in patients hospitalized with flu-like illnesses, testing positive for two different pathogens is not uncommon. And research published in JAMA in April 2020 found co-infections with other respiratory viruses (like rhinovirus/enterovirus and respiratory syncytial virus) in over 20% of one sample of 116 COVID-19 patients.
Currently, we are in both flu season and the omicron wave, meaning we may see more cases of these two infections coinciding in one person. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that flu activity and hospitalizations are ticking up in some areas of the country as COVID-19 infections continue to spread. According to the CDC, the low amount of flu activity since the start of the pandemic—due to public health measures like masks and social distancing—means that the population has reduced immunity this year. Combine that with the high transmissibility of omicron, a lack of widely available and highly accurate tests, and reduced levels of transmission-curbing measures compared to last year (including shortened recommended isolation periods and fewer lockdowns), and cases of flurona are inevitable.
How risky is flurona?
The symptoms of both illnesses (fever, coughing, headache, congestion, etc.) are often indistinguishable. And so far there is not evidence that having flurona results in more severe illness. “It’s obviously not good to be infected with two viruses rather than one, but there’s no clear indication that this is a particularly bad combination,” Jonathan Grein, M.D., director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told the hospital’s blog. People who are vaccinated against both viruses will be best protected against severe illness.