Flurona: What happens when you catch COVID-19 and flu at the same time?

Everything you need to know about influenza and coronavirus co-infection in what has been described by some as a twindemic.

Flurona: The novel coronavirus (top) and influenza (bottom) viruses are seen in this composite image. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Flurona: The novel coronavirus (top) and influenza (bottom) viruses are seen in this composite image.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

While 2021 continued the trend of the previous year by focusing on COVID-19 and the coronavirus variants, 2022 started off with a new term now entering the pandemic era lexicon: Flurona.

The name is basically exactly what it seems to be, a combination of influenza and the novel coronavirus, with people getting infected with both at once.

Ever since a woman in Israel was diagnosed with both at the start of January, people all over the world have started worrying about flurona and what it could mean for the world already battling COVID-19 and all its new variants. 

But what is flurona and how common is it? What are flurona symptoms and how many flurona cases are there?

Here is everything you need to know.

This undated transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus parti (credit: NIAID-RML/FILE PHOTO/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)This undated transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, also known as novel coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus parti (credit: NIAID-RML/FILE PHOTO/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
What is flurona?

Despite the name implying a combination, flurona is not a literal fusion of COVID-19 and the flu that had merged together to form some super pathogen that could spell destruction for our species.

Rather, ultimately, flurona is just the term for having both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

And not only is it not a new disease, it isn't even a new phenomenon.

Despite the initial reports making their way around the world when a woman was confirmed to have both the flu and COVID-19, this was not figurative flurona patient zero. 

No, flurona - though it wasn't called that at the time - has been around for at least two years. 

In November 2021, the Atlantic reported on a case from February 2020, in the very early days of the pandemic. At the time, a man had entered a medical center in Queens and was first diagnosed with the flu. He was tested again and by early March, he had tested positive for COVID-19 as well. 

This man, along with his wife and two children, were early flurona cases, way back at the beginning of the pandemic.

And they weren't even the first cases. No, those may just be from a study in China from early 2020 that noted many cases of simultaneous infection between the flu and coronavirus.

And it isn't just limited to these two places, either.

According to The Washington Post, flurona cases had already been detected in the US, Brazil, Hungary, the Phillippines and even Israel again before this latest report helped coin the term.

According to Filipino Health Department technical advisory group member Dr. Edsel Salvana, the first COVID-19 death outside of China in early 2020 (which was in the Philippines) was an instance of co-infection, as reported by ABS-CBN.

This patient, according to Salvana, was a Chinese national who had COVID-19, influenza and Streptococcus pneumonia all at the same time.

The flu (credit: Wikicommons)The flu (credit: Wikicommons)
If flurona cases are nothing new, why are we only hearing about it now?

Because of an unrealized fear returning once again.

People began getting worried about both diseases spreading simultaneously in what some experts termed a "twindemic," though rather than being about a new disease, it was about countries being able to handle this double outbreak.

With healthcare systems all over the world overwhelmed with rising COVID-19 cases, the fear of also having to deal with the flu was a serious concern.

But this twindemic never happened.

Why? 

That's unclear, but there are many possible reasons. Among the main ones is the fact that due to COVID-19 lockdowns and everyone wearing masks, flu season itself simply wasn't as severe. 

This is backed up by data showing that in the last flu season, cases in the US were significantly lower than normal, as noted by the Atlantic.

Now, however, we're hearing about it again.

But there is another reason to be worried right now. Due to the prevalence of new variants like the Omicron variant and the newly discovered variant in France, the virus is especially contagious. Omicron has already been shown to be more transmissible than some prior strains, making cases of co-infections even more possible now.

Where has flurona been found?

Flurona is nothing new, so there are other cases. Since the recent high-profile case of an unvaccinated pregnant woman in Israel, the Jewish state has found other flurona cases, including another pregnant woman.

Brazil has found several cases as well, as have Hungary, the Philippines and the US. 

Many cases have been found to be younger, though this isn't too surprising - especially in children.

“In rare occasions, I’ve seen five different viruses detected in the same child. Usually, a kid who was in daycare,” Dr. Juan Dumois, a Pediatric infectious diseases physician at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, told ABC News, explaining how uncommon co-infections are in children.

Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION/FILE PHOTO)Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION/FILE PHOTO)

What are the symptoms of flurona? Can vaccines protect you from flurona?

As flurona is just having the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, the symptoms are exactly that. 

There are other similarities too. Both the novel coronavirus and the flu spread in very similar ways, such as via the respiratory system, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The at-risk groups are also largely the same, such as frontline medical workers, elderly people, those with underlying conditions and people who are pregnant. 

But that doesn't mean everything is exactly the same. 

Some people who contract flurona have worse symptoms than others, and largely, the reason for this is simple: Vaccinations.

“If you are vaccinated, the disease is very mild,” Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus gynecology director Arnon Vizhnitser told The Washington Post.

Both COVID-19 and the flu have vaccines available, and being inoculated – and in the case of COVID-19, getting the booster shot – is the best way of limiting the severity of flurona. 

And as both diseases spread in a similar way, the way of preventing its spread is also similar: Social distancing and wearing masks.

Also, despite not being a new disease, there is a worry about having both at once – especially for certain at risk groups. This is because both viruses that make up flurona target the human respiratory system, which can make people struggle, such as children under the age of two and adults over the age of 65.

“When the immune system starts fighting a virus in the respiratory system in the lungs, that attack causes an inflammatory reaction that results in a production of more mucus in the lungs,” Dumois told ABC News, which can lead to less oxygen in the blood and difficulty breathing.

Other experts have also said something similar. 

Back in September, Dr. Adrian Burrowes, a family medicine physician and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Central Florida, warned CNN that flurona could be "catastrophic" for one's immune system that could lead to higher rates of mortality.

But, as noted by the WHO, preventative measures such as getting vaccinated, social distancing, wearing masks, washing hands, ensuring ventilation and avoiding super spreader events are both ideal ways of keeping safe amid both outbreaks of this twindemic.