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Flurona: Should You Be Worried?

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Have you heard of the term ‘Flurona‘ before? As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19 and the Omicron variant (and even more sub-variants), you may wonder: can COVID-19 infection exist together with the influenza virus and the flu infection? Read on to find out more about Flurona

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the flu season occurs mainly during fall and winter seasons. While the common cold is an all year round occurrence, flu is mostly limited to winters. However, COVID-19 completely changed life as we know of, wreaking havoc on health and economies since the pandemic started in early 2020. The spread of the COVID-19 virus challenged the existence of earlier viruses. Cases of co-infection with multiple types of viruses have been emerging and reported across Asia and the world, which includes co-infection with the influenza and COVID-19 viruses. This type of co-infection has been coined as ‘Flurona’.

With many Asian countries like Singapore and China expecting new waves of COVID-19 infections due to the highly infectious Omicron virus, should we be worried about co-infections with the influenza virus? 

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What is Flurona?

‘Flurona’ is an informal term coined to refer to the situation where the patient suffers from seasonal flu and COVID-19 simultaneously or back-to-back. It refers to double infection and is a combination of flu (influenza) and SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus disease). However, it is to be noted that the influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2 virus DO NOT combine to make a ‘supervirus called the ‘Flurona’. This term is used to describe the coincidental occurrence of two diseases together and is not a distinct disease in itself. 

Where was the first case of Flurona detected? 

The first case of Flurona that was officially reported were in an unvaccinated pregnant woman in Israel on 3 Jan 2022, followed by another patient in the United States on 5 Jan 2022. However, cases of co-infection were detected as early as January 2020. One patient from China was detected with co-infection in January 2020, followed by four patients from the U.S. in May 2020. Researchers from New York laboratory conducted research during March-April 2020 to study co-infection, and revealed that presence of concurrent infection occurs in only less than 3% of the entire population.  

What are the symptoms of Flurona?

COVID-19 infection and influenza infection share many similar symptoms such as the following:

  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches

Both of these infections are respiratory infections (i.e., infections of the respiratory system which includes the lungs), which can lead to severe conditions such as pneumonia. Co-infection with both the flu and COVID-19 viruses can potentially cause more severe symptoms with delayed recovery. The people at higher risk of developing these diseases include the elderly, individuals with co-morbidities, and healthcare workers.

How does Flurona spread?

Transmission of both viruses is through droplets or aerosols released by an infected person coughing, sneezing, speaking or breathing. Both the diseases can occur simultaneously if a person comes in contact with another COVID-19, or influenza patient, or touches any contaminated surface containing SARS-CoV-2 or influenza virus.

However, merely basing on the presented symptoms of the patient, it is almost impossible to ascertain if he or she is infected with both the viruses simultaneously. This is due to both infections have very similar symptoms. To identify if the patient is suffering from ‘Flurona’, virus detection tests need to be carried out.  

Why is Flurona significant?

Studies suggest that 2021 witnessed the lowest number of flu cases owing to social distancing norms of the COVID-19 pandemic, rendering the population even more vulnerable to developing flu in 2022. 

The world is already facing the worst pandemic of the 21st century, with the rapid spread and mutation of the coronavirus. Even as scientists and governments worldwide are working continuously to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, a looming twindemic with the onslaught of a concurrent influenza wave may overwhelm the healthcare system.

Conclusion

Although most countries are opening up and learning to live with the COVID-19 virus in this new normal, many countries are still wary of the threat that COVID-19 and the sub-variants pose. For example, Singapore is expecting new Omicron COVID-19 waves in July and August, as antibodies levels start to fall. Other Asian countries like China are still in the midst of lockdowns for its residents in a bid to stamp out COVID-19. With these new waves of COVID-19 coming up, and many countries starting to return to the new normal, co-infections of COVID-19 and influenza viruses (termed as ‘Flurona’) is likely to make a comeback, even if the likelihood of developing a co-infection is not high.

Did you find this article useful and informative? Do you have more questions regarding this topic, or any other topics related to medical and healthcare? Send your questions to editor@medicalchannelasia.com now!

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