Explaining ‘flurona’: A simultaneous flu, COVID-19 infection

Experts say co-infection can be more dangerous

The term "flurona" is used to describe an infection with both influenza, or the flu, and COVID-19 at the same time. The term doesn't describe a new virus or virus variant.

The infection dubbed “flurona” has captured the world’s attention, but many people aren’t exactly sure what it is or if it has anything to do with the “twindemic” that experts have warned about.

The term flurona refers to an infection with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time -- it is not a new virus or a new COVID variant. In fact, flurona is not really a new thing at all.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, in a paper published in the Journal of Medical Virology, researchers in China identified as many as 57% if cases of COVID-19 who were also infected with influenza A or B at the same time. A subsequent paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers in the U.S. found a much lower rate of co-infection with the flu -- only around 1%.

But that paper in JAMA did find other viruses besides the flu in 20% of people with COVID-19: Co-infections with COVID plus rhinovirus, enterovirus or RSV were the most common.

Symptoms of a simultaneous COVID and influenza infections aren’t likely to be much different than an infection by either one of the viruses alone. A fever, headache, fatigue, cough and runny nose are common for both illnesses -- however, the loss of taste and/or smell if fairly specific only to COVID.

Related: How do I know if I have a cold, the flu or COVID-19?

Based on data from early in the pandemic, being infected with both the flu and COVID at the same time is more dangerous, especially with influenza B. At this point, it isn’t clear how much more dangerous the combination infection would be, since we now have vaccines for COVID as well as treatments to limit severe illness.

Most hospital labs have the capacity to test for both influenza and COVID with the same nasal swab specimen. Particularly in patients at risk for severe disease, testing for both viruses can be important to know, since the specific treatments for influenza and COVID are different.

So far, 2022 is shaping up differently than last year, when influenza essentially disappeared. We are seeing more flu infections this year and, though relatively uncommon, experts believe more people will become infected by both viruses and get flurona.

The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated against both COVID and the flu.

More: Flu is making a comeback in US after an unusual year off

Related: Michigan projects COVID-19 surge won’t peak for some weeks

About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.