First there was Bennifer. Then Brangelina. The latest high-profile couple? “Flurona.”
Despite the hybrid name, flurona is not a new variant of Covid-19, but rather two distinct viruses – influenza and SARS-Cov-2 – writing their own love story in your body, said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation physician-scientist Hal Scofield, M.D.
Data is scant on these coinfections, which are common among viruses. Scofield said this absence of scientific understanding is not surprising because outside of a hospital or clinic, testing typically stops after one positive test.
“Once you learn that you’re positive for Covid, you’re probably not going to go get a separate test for the seasonal flu,” he said.
A smattering of so-called flurona cases have been reported internationally and in a few U.S. states since the current flu season began. Scofield said he is unaware of any confirmed cases so far in Oklahoma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, positive flu tests were scarce last winter, likely because of pandemic precautions. Influenza rates have returned to more normal levels this winter but are still lower than during the four years preceding Covid.
While the term flurona is new, the occurrence of both viruses dates to the early days of the pandemic. In a 2020 study of 544 Chinese patients hospitalized with severe cases of Covid-19, 12% also tested positive for influenza A or B.
“Logic would tell you that catching two serious viruses would put you at greater risk of having a really bad outcome,” Scofield said. “In reality, we just don’t know enough yet to make that statement.”
In a small study in New York, researchers examined patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 and a non-influenza respiratory virus during spring 2020. The scientists found the patients had less inflammation and less severe disease than those ill with Covid-19 alone.
Two studies of people hospitalized in Wuhan, China, showed conflicting results regarding Covid and influenza coinfection. One, involving 140 total patients, showed that those with both severe Covid-19 and influenza were more likely to die than those with Covid-19 only. The other study, involving 307 patients, found that the strain of flu someone was co-infected with may play a role in severity of illness.
Both viruses are spread primarily through coughing, sneezing or speaking. So, the same precautions apply to both Covid and influenza, Scofield said, and the best Valentine’s Day date in 2022 is one that includes vaccines.
“Get vaccinated against both, get your Covid booster, continue to social distance and wear a mask in public,” he said. “That’s your best defense against getting a coinfection or infecting someone else.”