Having COVID-19 and the flu at the same time is possible — and it’s even deadlier

EDINBURGH, Scotland — “Flu-rona” may not be an actual condition, but having the flu and a coronavirus infection at the same time is not only possible, it can be a potentially fatal illness. Researchers from the United Kingdom found adult patients with both infections were four times more likely to need a ventilator and 2.4 times more likely to die than people only suffering from COVID-19.

While mass testing and vaccination campaigns for COVID-19 are underway, there is less of a response for the yearly flu vaccines. The findings show the need to expand flu testing and vaccination in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 illness.

“We are seeing a rise in the usual seasonal respiratory viruses as people return to normal mixing. So, we can expect flu to be circulating alongside COVID-19 this winter. We were surprised that the risk of death more than doubled when people were infected by both flu and COVID-19 viruses. It is now very important that people get fully vaccinated and boosted against both viruses, and not leave it until it is too late,” says Calum Semple, a professor of outbreak medicine and child health at the University of Liverpool, in a university release.

People need different vaccinations for different illnesses

The researchers tracked the health of over 305,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infection from Feb. 6, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. It is the largest study to date on COVID-19 infection with other endemic respiratory viruses.

Of the 305,000 patients in the study, healthcare professional tested 6,965 for other respiratory viruses beyond SARS-CoV-2. A total of 227 tested positive for influenza and these people were more likely to experience more severe symptoms.

“We found that the combination of COVID-19 and flu viruses is particularly dangerous. This will be important as many countries decrease the use of social distancing and containment measures. We expect that COVID-19 will circulate with flu, increasing the chance of co-infections. That is why we should change our testing strategy for COVID-19 patients in hospital and test for flu much more widely,” explains Kenneth Baillie, a professor of experimental medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

“Being infected with more than one virus is not very common but it’s important to be aware that co-infections do happen. The vaccines that protect against COVID-19 and flu are different, and people need both,” adds Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

The findings appear in the journal The Lancet.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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