COVID-19 and the flu are both respiratory viruses that can be anywhere from annoying to life-threatening, and public health experts have been worried about what might happen if both become widespread at the same time (the dreaded “twindemic”). Besides their individual tolls on the healthcare system, there’s also the worry that people might get both at the same time.
That’s what has happened in the headline-grabbing cases of a few people who have what’s being called “flurona.” Despite the underlying tone of panic, there’s one thing you need to know: this is not a new disease.
What is flurona?
Flurona is not a thing, okay? Despite the singular name, it’s not a hybrid of the two viruses. It simply means that one person is infected with these two viruses at the same time. (It’s also not a scientific or medical term, just a name concocted to sound scary, like “murder hornets.”)
It’s like if you stepped in dog poop and then a bird pooped on you the same day. It would suck and it would be a strange coincidence, but it’s not some special new mutant poop tragedy.
The cases of influenza and SARS-CoV-2 coinfection (which is what it’s really called) are not a new phenomenon; there were cases even in early 2020. We also know that recently there were cases in California, Texas, and Florida, two pregnant women had recent coinfections in Israel, and Brazil has at least six recent cases, according to the Washington Post.
Most locations are not testing for COVID and flu at the same time, nor tracking coinfections, so we don’t yet know if they are getting more common. One thing to remember is that flu cases were very low last year, thanks to increased masking and distancing compared to previous years. Flu cases are already a lot higher than last year and looking more like a typical season, so it may be reasonable to expect more coinfections this year than last year.
What does this mean for me?
The most important takeaway is that it’s important to be vaccinated against COVID and the flu. Some of the coinfections were in people who had their COVID shot but not a recent flu shot. Getting your flu shot is an easy step that can help protect you against coinfection. If you’re heading in for a COVID shot or booster, you can even get a flu shot the same day.
Neither vaccine is 100% effective, but each provides significant protection against its virus. And both make you less likely to have serious complications if you do get infected.
Los Angeles County, which had a recent coinfection case that has been in the headline, offers combined COVID and flu testing at some of its testing locations. Combined tests are available at some other testing labs; consider getting one of these tests if you are feeling particularly sick and if these tests are available to you. (It’s also possible to get separate tests for both; ask your doctor if you can’t find one.) The symptoms of both conditions are similar enough that you can’t tell the difference just from symptoms.