“If someone is exposed to two different viruses or three different viruses, then they can potentially all cause infections at the same time,” Cleveland Clinic Head of Microbiology Dr. Daniel Rhoads said.
Co-infection has been possible since the start of the pandemic but is a larger concern now as flu cases increase. Covid-19 safety measures including masking and social distancing allowed most people to avoid the flu last year.
“This is not some new problem sweeping the globe,” University Hospitals pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Amy Edwards said. “Covid really does need to be our main focus.”
The World Health Organization said just .4% of Covid-19 patients in the U.S. also had influenza.
The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals each said they have seen rare cases of co-infection or “flurona”this season.
“We have seen cases of co-infection, but those occur infrequently, and it’s not more than what I would expect when two viruses are circulating at the same time,” Rhoads said.
The Ohio Hospital Association reported 6,540 patients were hospitalized with Covid-19 in the state on Thursday.
By comparison, the Ohio Department of Health reports a total of 234 flu-related hospitalizations so far this flu season.
Influenza-related hospitalizations are tracking below average, but the state has not yet reached its traditional influenza peak. The Cuyahoga County Board of Health reports flu activity reached high levels in mid-December, when the latest reports are available.
“It’s not that bad of a flu season compared with prior seasons, so even though Covid is going crazy we’re not seeing a ton of co-infections,” Edwards said.
Local hospitals said they have seen too few flurona cases to determine what co-infection means for the severity of symptoms and the risk of hospitalization.
Doctors said one’s best defense against severe illness from both Covid-19 and influenza is to get vaccinated. The same tactics to keep from spreading Covid work for the flu.
“Any precautions you can take from catching either or both, I would say it’s good to take those precautions because there’s a lot of Covid right now,” Rhoads said.