Whether you call it “flurona,” “double trouble,” a “twindemic” or a “surge upon a surge,” combining the flu and COVID-19 sounds like a miserable proposition. Unfortunately, it is possible.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, but there are several similarities between the two. They share common symptoms, affect the respiratory system, are contagious, and can cause mild to severe illness.
Medical experts around the globe are concerned about the likelihood of an overwhelming number of cases of both illnesses. And in some cases, being infected by both viruses at the same time may occur. Not only are many people at high risk for severe illness caused by flu and COVID-19 — separately or together — but some hospitals might not have the resources to care for the increased number of severely ill patients.
“We’re anticipating a higher than normal flu season this year along with an underlying pandemic,” says Dr. Jyotu Sandhu, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “Normally, about 50% of the population receive a flu shot, leaving an additional 50% who don’t get vaccinated, along with a whole population that was not exposed to last year’s strains due to COVID mitigation efforts. Now, you’ve got a tidal wave of flu waiting to come in just as the COVID-19 omicron variant is increasing our case numbers.”
Additionally, according to Dr. Sandhu, contracting both viruses at the same time could be serious. “They’re both respiratory infections, they both can cause severe illness, even death, and when contracted together, they can have dangerous outcomes,” he says.
Vaccines can help prevent both illnesses
The good news is that there are safe and effective vaccines for both the flu and COVID-19 that can prevent severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths. This offers a solution for lightening the load of illness in each region if everyone who can get vaccinated does so.
In fact, the CDC reports that the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with the flu by 40% to 60%. Flu vaccination among adults was also associated with a 26% lower risk of ICU admission and a 31% lower risk of death from flu compared to people who were unvaccinated.
What’s more, the COVID-19 vaccines are extremely safe and effective. While the omicron variant has led to some mild breakthrough cases among vaccinated people, the vaccines, when paired with a booster shot, remain highly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization or worse.
“It is so important to share the message that vaccination can protect you from severe illness and help local health care systems avoid being overwhelmed,” Dr. Sandhu says. “And it is vital that you get a COVID-19 vaccine, a COVID vaccine booster, and a flu vaccine to avoid what they’re calling ‘flurona.’”
The CDC says: Get the shots
But what if you’ve already had COVID-19? Do you still need to get a COVID-19 vaccine or flu shot? If so, is it safe to get either vaccine while sick with or shortly after recovering from COVID-19?
Because different viruses cause the flu and COVID-19, having recovered from COVID-19 does not make you immune to the flu. But the annual flu vaccine offers protection against the flu strains thought to be the most common during this year’s flu season.
Having COVID-19 may provide you with some immunity to having that disease again in the future, but it is unknown how long your natural immunity will last. And immunity gained through infection varies from person to person.
The CDC recommends receiving both vaccines, including a COVID-19 vaccine booster when eligible, even after having COVID-19, with the following in mind:
- If you currently have COVID-19, both your flu and COVID-19 vaccination should be postponed for no less than 10 days from your positive test result; at least 10 days after your symptoms first began; and only if you have no fever without the use of fever-reducing medicines for 24 hours.
- Even if you have no or very mild symptoms, you should postpone getting your vaccinations to avoid exposing others — including your health care provider and other patients — to the virus that causes COVID-19.
- If you had a known exposure to a person with COVID-19, you should also wait to receive your vaccinations until your quarantine period has ended.
After that, the CDC reports that it is safe to receive both your flu and COVID-19 vaccine (or COVID-19 vaccine booster) and you can even receive them at the same time. It’s also important to note that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu and the COVID-19 vaccines cannot give you COVID-19. Additionally, neither the flu vaccine nor the COVID-19 vaccines makes you more vulnerable to the other illness.
“Hospitals across the country are already showing signs that they can’t handle the sheer numbers of seriously ill patients, so we’re advising people to stay safe and prevent both flu and COVID-19 infection through vaccination before they become a greater problem,” Dr. Sandhu says. “They’re both very real, they’re both very active and they’re both happening concurrently. We have to take both seriously.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Sandhu about flu and COVID-19, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.