Influenza and COVID-19: A worrisome cocktail
An unlocalized threat
The true extent of co-infection
Although some cases have been identified, the precise number of co-infections is not known for three reasons:
- The PCR tests that have been used to detect COVID-19 cases were not developed to simultaneously detect other micro-organisms (e.g., viruses, fungi or bacteria) responsible for respiratory illness.
- Tests that can detect different respiratory infections, such as the respiratory multiplex PCR assays available at Biron, are not designed for the mass detection required by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Tests to detect influenza A and B antigens were rarely prescribed during the pandemic.
However, the actual number of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza co-infections is thought to be quite high. Viral co-infections are not new and are more common than previously believed. Different studies conducted prior to COVID-19 indicate that co-infections can affect anywhere from 14% to 70% of individuals hospitalized with respiratory illness.
One thing is certain: It is not a new virus
Putting an end to infections
During the pandemic, we learned that to stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2, we need to avoid close contact, practise good hygiene and get vaccinated. The same is true for the influenza virus: avoid contact with infected people, wash your hands and get vaccinated.
These measures are especially important because the flu virus could return with a vengeance during flu season and further weaken our hospital capacity. After two years of low flu activity, far fewer people have natural immunity to influenza, which could increase the spread.
To fight co-infections of COVID-19 and influenza, the solution is simple: encourage all at-risk individuals to get vaccinated against both types of infection. There is no need to invent a new word such as “flurona” and create confusion.
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- Marine Corniou (August 27, 2020). “Grippe et COVID-19: vers une épidémie double à l’automne?” Québec Science, https://www.quebecscience.qc.ca/sciences/grippe-covid-19-epidemie-double-automne/
- Julie Charpentrat, AFP (January 4, 2022). “La double infection grippe et COVID surnommée "flurona" n’est ni inédite ni une ‘fusion’ de deux virus,” Imazpress, https://www.ipreunion.com/factchecking/reportage/2022/01/04/-la-double-infection-grippe-et-covid-surnommee-flurona-n-est-ni-inedite-ni-une-fusion-de-deux-virus,145580.html
- Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec (December 11, 2020). “Fin de la campagne de vaccination contre l’influenza pour la saison 2020-2021,” INSPQ, https://jasp.inspq.qc.ca/publications/3096-fin-campagne-vaccination-influenza
- Aryeh Stern (December 30, 2021). “Israel Reports First Case of 'Flurona',” Hamodia, https://hamodia.com/2021/12/30/israel-reports-first-case-of-flurona/
- Roxanne Khamsi (November 17, 2021). “The Double-Whammy COVID-Flu,” The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2021/11/covid-flu-same-time/620729/
- Z. Guan, C. Chen, Y. Li et al. (2021). “Impact of Coinfection With SARS-CoV-2 and Influenza on Disease Severity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Frontiers in Public Health, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.773130
- Lubna Pinky, Gilberto Gonzalez-Parra, Hana M. Dobrovolny (2019). “Superinfection and cell regeneration can lead to chronic viral coinfections,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 466:24-38, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2019.01.011
- Jean Ruelle. “Quelles sont les différences entre le coronavirus et la grippe saisonnière?” UCLouvain, https://uclouvain.be/fr/decouvrir/quelles-sont-les-differences-entre-le-coronavirus-et-la-grippe-saisonniere.html [consulted on February 23, 2022]