The name conjures images of cheap cable horror flicks – think “Sharknado” – but flu-COVID dual infections are real. More cases are likely. And they’re not nearly as terrifying as flying sharks – especially for people who are vaccinated against one or both.
Texas Children’s Hospital announced this week that tests confirmed a child was infected with influenza A and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The patient was not hospitalized and is recovering at home, the hospital said. No other details were given.
“This is one confirmed case and, of course, we’ll be working with our colleagues across the country to see if there are more cases and whether we will see a distinct pattern in these cases,” Dr. Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief and COVID-19 command center co-leader at the hospital, told reporters Monday.
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The announcement comes a few days after Israel reported its first confirmed “flurona” case in an unvaccinated pregnant woman at the Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, the Times of Israel reports.
Health experts expect to see more “flurona” amid rapidly rising flu and coronavirus cases, the latter being driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. And this isn’t the first time health care providers have seen co-infections of the flu and COVID-19, as well as other viruses.
Texas Children’s Hospital was also the first children’s hospital in the U.S. to report a co-infection of COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, in the summer. Versalovic said dozens of children with co-infections required hospitalization.
But there’s no specific treatment or vaccine for RSV, so experts speculate children with “flurona” may experience better outcomes.
“I expect to see plenty of co-infections (of flu and COVID-19) going forward, but I don’t see anything that suggests it makes COVID infections worse,” said Dr. Frank Esper, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. “Those are two viral pathogens that we actually have medicines for.”
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In addition to lifesaving vaccines to prevent severe illness, he said, health care providers are prepared to treat the infections simultaneously with Tamiflu and remdesivir.
Immunocompromised people are vulnerable to these infections, but co-infections are more likely to occur in young children, experts say, because their immune system is still unfamiliar with many common viruses.
“Hands down, the No. 1 predisposition for having more than one virus at the same time is your age, and it’s really children under 5,” Esper said. “They all have virus running rampant and swap them like trading cards.”
Cold viruses make up the most commonly seen co-infection cases, Esper said, whereas co-infections with influenza are observed less frequently.
“There are certain pathogens that don’t like to dance with anyone, and influenza is one of them,” he said. “When the body gets infected (with the flu virus), it really starts flooding the whole system with a lot of immune components that prevent viral infection,” making it harder for other pathogens to enter the body and cause illness.
Co-infections involving the flu may be rarer than other viruses, but health experts still expect to see rising cases of “flurona” as the U.S. approaches peak flu activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 43% of children 6 months to 17 years have been vaccinated for the flu as of Dec. 4.
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Texas Children’s Hospital said it has diagnosed more than 90 flu cases since Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, weekly COVID-19 cases have doubled amid the spread of the omicron variant.
“During the weekend, we shattered prior records that were established during the delta surge in August,” Versalovic said. “Just in a span of two to three weeks, we saw the tremendous impact of omicron overtaking delta.”
It’s still unclear if “flurona” causes more severe disease, but health experts don’t want to take any chances. They urge Americans to get vaccinated against both viruses as soon as possible.
The flu vaccine is available to children over 6 months, and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is available to children 5 and older.
“Influenza vaccination is the best preventive measure against getting infected and preventing some of the serious influenza associated complications,” said Dr. Gregg Sylvester, chief medical officer at Seqirus, an influenza vaccine manufacturer headquartered in New Jersey. “A flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the virus.”
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