Israel’s first known case of a person infected with COVID-19 and the flu has been detected, the country’s Ministry of Health confirmed to CNN on Tuesday, raising questions over how the two viruses might impact someone who contracts them at the same time.
The patient, an unvaccinated pregnant woman in her 30s, was discharged on Thursday “in good general condition,” Beilinson hospital in Petah Tikva, said in a statement.
“This is the first mother to be diagnosed with influenza and corona in Beilinson. We treated her with a drug combination that targets both corona and flu,” Arnon Wiznitzer, director of the Beilinson Women’s Department, said in the statement.
“We are seeing more and more morbidity of influenza among the maternity population, along with cases of corona that mainly occur in women not vaccinated against corona and influenza,” Wiznitzer added. “This is definitely a challenging time that in addition to the corona diseases we are increasingly dealing with flu.”
What COVID-19 and the flu together could do
“Flurona” is a term coined to describe the condition of being infected with COVID-19 and the flu simultaneously.
Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, told CNN on Tuesday that because “there is now both very high influenza activity and very high COVID activity, there is the option that someone will be infected with both.”
“I don’t think this is going to be a common situation, but that’s something to consider,” added Davidovitch, who is a member of the Israeli National Advisory Committee on COVID-19.
Lockdowns and mask wearing helped limit the spread of influenza earlier on in the pandemic, but as society opens up, cases are expected to rise.
“It’s interesting that after you have a year with a very, very low or not at all influenza activity, the next year because people were less exposed, it makes them more vulnerable,” Davidovitch said.
He added that for those without underlying health conditions who have been vaccinated for both influenza and COVID-19, these viruses are unlikely to have a “major effect on the individual.”
The threat to higher risk groups
The flu and COVID-19 are respiratory diseases, and can cause similar symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, headache and fatigue, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Both are spread through droplets and aerosols when an infected person breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes.
Being infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time could be “catastrophic to your immune system,” Dr. Adrian Burrowes, a family medicine physician and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Central Florida, told CNN in September.
“I do believe you’re going to see co-infection with flu and coronavirus. And I do believe you’re going to see a higher rate of mortality as a result of that,” Burrowes said at the time.
Davidovitch said there was not enough data to suggest if rates of hospitalization are higher for those infected with both the flu and COVID-19, compared to if someone had just one of the viruses.
‘An overburdened system’
As governments around the world grapple with outbreaks of the omicron variant, Davidovitch is concerned about the potential strain the flu and coronavirus could put on health care systems – especially during the winter months.
“During the winter because… it’s cold and people are closed inside, you have a higher risk of being infected in upper respiratory infections in general. And when you have high infectivity of both influenza and COVID, together this can create an overburdened system,” Davidovitch said.
In order to curb the spread of the flu and coronavirus, and prevent the strain on global health care systems, he emphasized the “need to protect people.”
“We are facing now the winter, we are facing overwhelmed internal wards, and prevention is probably the best idea. And we were lucky last year that we didn’t suffer from both (COVID-19 and influenza),” Davidovitch said.
He said that in order to help protect health care systems, more people need to get vaccinated, as well as compliance with other measures to help protect high risk individuals, the elderly, and those suffering from chronic illnesses.
People can take protective measures that are effective against COVID-19 and the flu, including social distancing, regularly cleaning your hands, isolating, and opening windows and doors to ensure ventilation, according to WHO.
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