‘Flurona’ is an emerging condition of concern among doctors

Dr. Matthew B. Laurens is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. (Courtesy University of Maryland School of Medicine)

“Flurona,” a portmanteau of flu and coronavirus, is a condition that is of concern to doctors because it involves people fighting dual infections at the same time.

It’s not something new and not uncommon for people to be co-infected with more than one different pathogen. But last flu season was atypically mild, and you’re likely to be hearing more about flurona as this year’s flu season ramps up.

“In the case of influenza and SARS-CoV-2, both viruses can affect the lungs, and both can lead to multi-organ failure and death. So there can be severe consequences of either infection. And when you combine both together, it’s potentially more serious,” said Dr. Matthew B. Laurens, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Until studies on cases of flurona hospitalizations and deaths are done, it is unknown whether someone’s vaccination status affects the likelihood of getting a co-infection or having severe consequences from co-infection.

Dr. Matthew Laurens. (Courtesy University of Maryland School of Medicine)

“What we do know is that those who are vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2 are much less likely to be hospitalized and have those severe outcomes,” Laurens said.

As for the flu, the most current data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the week ending Dec. 25 show there’s still low transmission of flu in most areas of the U.S. Flu activity is expected to increase over coming months. “And that is when we would be able to look more closely to see if the co-infection with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza leads to potentially severe outcomes,” Laurens said.

Laurens notes that treating a dual infection of influenza and COVID-19 can be challenging because using steroids can help people hospitalized with COVID-19 but not flu patients.

“For influenza in hospitalized patients, steroids have not been shown systematically to improve outcomes in individuals, perhaps because it may suppress an individual’s own immune response against the influenza virus,” Laurens said.

Because co-infections are known to happen, it’s expected that COVID-19 co-infections also can occur with common winter viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and human metapneumovirus — two of the leading causes of respiratory infections in children and elderly and immunocompromised people.

“All of these viruses can circulate and most of them can be prevented by using measures, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, careful hand hygiene and avoiding crowded areas. So the things that people have been advised to do to avoid SARS-CoV-2 would work for these other respiratory viruses as well,” Laurens said.

The situation is being monitored closely.

“Ongoing public health surveillance is needed to assess the burden of SARS-CoV-2 infection and interactions with other respiratory viruses, including influenza,” according an article from CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The article recommends doctors encourage people to get both flu and COVID-19 shots, “especially among persons of color and low-income residents, who are disproportionately affected by both diseases.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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