Israel has logged its first official case of what’s being called “flurona,” a flu-COVID combo that yes, can happen.
But the chances of contracting both diseases at once is actually pretty small, an expert in aerosol transmission told the Daily News.
“There’s a certain probability of being exposed to SARS-CoV-2, and a certain probability of getting influenza,” said David Edwards, a bioengineer and professor at Harvard University. “And the probability of being exposed to both is significantly less.”
The dual infections occurred in an unvaccinated pregnant Israeli woman whose symptoms were mild, Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva told The Times of Israel. The woman, who was in her 30s, was treated with a drug combination targeting both viruses, said Arnon Wiznitzer, director of the Beilinson Women’s Department, in a statement.
“We are seeing more and more morbidity of influenza among the maternity population, along with cases of corona that mainly occur in women not vaccinated against corona and influenza,” Wiznitzer said. “This is definitely a challenging time that in addition to the corona diseases we are increasingly dealing with flu.”
Medics organize swab samples at a drive-thru testing site for the coronavirus, in the central Israeli city of Modiin, on January 2, 2022. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images)
While simultaneous infections with both viruses were recorded even in the early days of the pandemic in the U.S., flu was not as much of a factor last year because of a record mild season. This year, the flu season is returning with a vengeance back to pre-pandemic levels, even as fewer people get flu shots.
Fewer flu shots both in the U.S. and abroad means a potential surge of both.
“Edwards told The News that even though the probability of a double infection is “significantly smaller” than the probability of being infected by one or the other, “it can happen.”
He added: “It’s clearly true that anything that reduces your immune defenses makes you more vulnerable to infection, and therefore if you are infected by SARS-CoV-2 or influenza and then are exposed to the other virus, it would increase the chances that the second infection would be more serious by virtue of being infected with one or the other.”
In Israel, flu has spiked in recent weeks, and officials fear a “twindemic” of both illnesses crowding hospitals. Not that all patients will have both diseases, but the concern is that a high volume of patients will overwhelm health care systems already stretched to the limit with COVID, as The Atlantic reported in November.
The same thing could happen here in the U.S., though double infection may not become common.
Both viruses attack the airways, so someone who is unvaccinated and/or immune-compromised could buckle under the double whammy, experts say.
Children are already known to get infected with more than one virus at a time, though it’s not known what the combination of flu and COVID could do, Dr. Matthew Harris, pediatric emergency medicine specialist at Northwell Health and the medical director for the vaccine program, told The News.
“We don’t yet know how kids will react with flu and COVID,” he said, adding that they were already seeing more flu cases than last year. “We have certainly had several hospitalizations and a few to the intensive care unit for a higher number of children with high-risk medical conditions who have been hospitalized with influenza A.”
He repeated the advice given by medical professionals worldwide: “I think this year more than ever getting vaccinated against the flu is even more important.”
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