The seasonal flu is back, and it’s occasionally teaming up with everyone’s least favourite coronavirus. On Wednesday, testing site officials in Los Angeles reported the city’s first apparent case of the newly coined “flurona”: a co-infection of influenza and the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The unlucky infected person, a teenage boy, is reportedly only experiencing mild illness.
The case was detected four days ago at a Los Angeles covid-19 testing centre run by the company 911 COVID Testing, according to its CFO Steve Farzam. The boy and his family had recently returned from a vacation in Cabo San Lucas. One of his parents tested positive for covid-19, but only he tested positive for both viruses; he was also the only person in his family to feel sick, with symptoms of sinus inflammation.
There have been scattered reports of people coming down with co-infections of flu and the coronavirus since early on in the pandemic, but it’s only recently that flurona has emerged as a more pressing concern. Despite initial worries of a “twindemic,” the seasonal flu effectively disappeared in many parts of the world throughout 2020 and much of 2021, thanks to pandemic-related measures that also curbed transmission of the less contagious flu and other germs. But these measures have softened over time, and cases of flu have started to appear during their expected seasonal peaks, this winter in the U.S. included.
Last week, Israeli health officials reported their first known case of flurona and noted that others may be out there. And while this latest case almost certainly isn’t the first instance of someone in the U.S. catching both infections, it does seem to be the first reported locally.
“This is the first one that we’re aware of,” Farzam said Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported.
This same week, doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital also reported a flurona case in a young patient of theirs. The patient didn’t need to be hospitalized and is recovering at home.
There is some limited evidence in animals suggesting that co-infections of coronavirus and influenza A (one of two major types of flu that sicken us annually) can cause more harm combined than either would alone. But it’s not clear whether the same would be true for humans, and there are plenty of other factors that can influence the risk of serious illness from any infection, such as a person’s underlying health.
“In and of itself, it’s not overly concerning; however, it is concerning and can be problematic for someone who has preexisting medical conditions, anyone who is immunocompromised.” Farzam said.
The risk of catching flurona is definitely real this winter, though. The U.S. is in the midst of another pandemic wave, the result of both the Delta variant and the more recently emerged Omicron variant, which can infect people with some prior immunity. The flu season is similarly picking up pace, with cases and hospitalizations on the rise. In much of the Southern and Eastern U.S., flu activity is moderate to high, though it remains low elsewhere.
Thankfully, there are available vaccines for both flu and covid-19, and while neither is perfect at preventing infection, they reduce the risk of severe illness. And just as you can catch flu and covid at the same time, you can also get vaccinated for both at once. Other simple precautions, like wearing a mask inside public indoor spaces, washing your hands, and staying home when sick, can reduce the risk of either infection spreading.