Just when we thought we had passed the peak of the Omicron COVID-19 wave, comes the latest, terrifying punch the coronavirus pandemic has thrown our way: Flurona.
What exactly is Flurona?
‘Flurona’ is a term to describe a flu-COVID-19 coinfection. A handful of cases have surfaced in the United States, mostly among children and teenagers.
“It sounds like ‘sharknado,” Dr. Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told The New York Times. “But it’s not a known medical term.”
The good news for a weary, exhausted U.S. public just trying to make it through winter is flurona cases are still very rare and flurona is not a new variant of the coronavirus. A co-infection doesn’t immediately mean a patient will be double sick. People have been testing positive for both COVID-19 and influenza since the pandemic began. The journal Frontiers in Medicine found in a 2021 study that the frequency of influenza virus coinfection among patients with COVID-19 was 4.5% in Asia and 0.4 percent in the U.S.
“It’s not surprising that we would see more coinfections this season, given the fact that most people are no longer isolating and are out and about in their communities,” Greg Poland, M.D., founder and director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, told AARP.org.
Still, though flurona cases have been mild, there is a heightened concern for older adults, who, the AARP stresses, are more vulnerable to the effects of both the flu and COVID-19. Of U.S. flu deaths, 85% occur to people age 65 and older. Seniors account for up to 70% of all seasonal flu hospitalizations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We anticipate that as flu becomes more prevalent, we will see more co-infections,” Dr. Jonathan D. Grein, an infectious disease physician and the director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, told the Times.
What’s the best way to keep yourself and your family safe from contracting flurona?
Make Sure You’re Up To Date on all Your Vaccines, Including the Flu Shot
Simply put, you can’t fight the coronavirus unarmed, yet alone the double-trouble threat of flurona. Make sure you’re vaccinated and up to date on your booster shots. The highly transmissible omicron variant, the dominant version of the coronavirus circulating in the U.S., has features that make it better able to sidestep the protections offered by the standard COVID-19 vaccine.
Wear High-Quality Masks
U.S. public health officials, including the Biden Administration, are now recommending N95 respirator masks, especially for older adults, in public settings. These masks are best at filtering out virus-size particles. The government is making millions of N95 masks available at no cost at stores nationwide, including Walgreens.
Also, avoid risky scenarios.
“Just given the level of transmission we’re seeing with omicron, I’d recommend avoiding situations where you’re unmasked, like indoor dining, and crowded events like concerts or lectures,” Poland said.
For Americans with chronic conditions such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes, Poland recommends staying home as much as possible until both flu and COVID-19 numbers begin to drop.
Wash Your Hands Frequently
Remember, personal hygiene begins and ends with our hands. The virus that causes COVID-19 is primarily airborne. The best way to keep it away from us is regularly washing our hands with soap and water or cleansing them of germs with hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. The CDC reports handwashing can reduce respiratory illnesses by up to 21 percent.
If You Feel Sick, Get Tested
If you experience symptoms similar to COVID-19 or the flu – fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, stuffy nose, headache or muscle aches – assume you need to get a COVID shot.
“It’s a good idea to get tested for both (COVID-19 and the flu), since you may need different treatments,” Poland said.
In most cases, both the flu and COVID-19 can be managed at home with rest, fluids and an over-the-counter pain reliever to reduce fever and body aches. The FDA has approved antiviral medicals for the treatments of both viruses. In some serious cases, getting those anti-virals as soon as possible could save your life.
Just as with all viruses, younger people have better odds of fighting off flurona without becoming seriously ill.
“A strong immune response may actually help the body fight off pathogens of all types, so one infection could stimulate additional protection,” Nierenberg writes.
But older Americans should take caution, but not panic, in their measures to avoid flurona. Hopefully, this is a pandemic anomaly with a bark much worse than its bite.
“For young healthy people, (flurona) usually isn’t a big deal,” Michael Hochman, M.D., a Los Angeles internist, told AARP.org. “Their bodies have a strong immune response that fights both bugs off.
“But if you’re older, with a less robust immune system, and you have other chronic conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease, you may end up sicker than if you just had one virus alone.”
A reassuring May 2021 study of hospitalized people published in the Journal of Medical Virology showed no difference in outcomes in people with coinfection versus people with just COVD-19.
“Yes, you can get ‘flurona.’ But it’s probably not as bad as it sounds,” The New York Times’ Amelia Nierenberg writes.
As scary as it sounds, we can beat flurona with smart social distancing, rigorous personal hygiene and by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including enough sleep and regular exercise.
Don’t panic, folks, but stay vigilant to prevent the pandemic nightmare that is flurona from becoming a reality for you and your family.
“It’s not like a switch just goes off the day you turn 65 and you’re suddenly much more at risk for flurona,” Poland said. “A vaccinated 55-year-old who’s obese is much more likely to develop complications than a vaccinated 70-year-old marathon runner. That’s why it’s important to stay in good-health year-round, not just during flu and COVID season.”
For, if we’re smart, we can beat this, including something as scary-sounding as flurona.
“The majority of people who have influenza do just fine. The majority of people who have COVID do just fine, especially if they’re vaccinated,” Dr. Andrew D. Bradley, an infectious disease specialist and the chair of the SARS-CoV-2 COVID-19 Task Force at the Mayo Clinic, “but we expect that the majority of people who are co-infected with the two viruses will also do just fine.”