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Can you catch the flu and covid-19 at the same time?

According to the Times of Israel, the woman did not develop serious symptoms and was discharged from the hospital unharmed. But his case might not be so exceptional: the Israeli newspaper reports that the country has suffered an epidemic peak of influenza in recent weeks, which has led to numerous hospitalizations; it is likely that many other people have been infected with both viruses without knowing it. While Covid-19 largely eclipsed the flu last winter – generalized confinements, among other preventive measures, having contributed to reducing contamination – the latter is no less dangerous and the Israeli Ministry of Health invites the population to be vaccinated against this other virus.

Flu or Covid-19: how to tell the difference?

These diseases, both viral and contagious, are very similar in appearance. The flu is caused by influenza viruses (from the Orthomyxoviridae family), which target the airways (the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs). Like Covid-19, it can cause mild or severe symptoms, and can lead to the death of the most vulnerable people. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 70,000 people die each year from influenza in the European Region (and up to 650,000 globally).

They are spread in the same way, by contact with an infected surface or by air, via tiny droplets containing viral particles. More people are however susceptible to the Covid-19 virus, because it is a new virus, against which the population is not immune; on the other hand, influenza infections and/or previous vaccinations against influenza have provided part of the population with the necessary immune defences.

Weekly evolution of hospitalizations for influenza in metropolitan France from weeks 40 to 15, seasons 2017-18 to 2021-2022 (provisional data): number of serious cases admitted to intensive care and proportion of influenza-like illnesses per 1000 hospitalizations, by week of admission. Credits: Public Health France (weekly bulletin of 29/12/2021)

In terms of symptoms, the two infections paint the same picture: fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat and body aches, which are sometimes accompanied by vomiting and diarrhea (especially in children). The sudden loss of taste and smell should be more reminiscent of Covid-19 – these symptoms indeed occur more rarely in the case of the flu. Another notable difference: the long-term effects of infection are much more common after Covid-19 than after the flu; former patients sometimes report weakness, shortness of breath or lasting difficulty concentrating.

The flu virus can cause serious illnesses, such as pneumonia, or inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscles. Nevertheless, it now appears that Covid-19 is more likely to lead to complications and hospitalization; it is therefore advisable to perform a screening test as soon as you have symptoms. ” Lhas COVID-19 has a higher rate of severe illness and death than the flu in all age groups, except possibly children under 12 “, specifies the virologist Andrew Pekosz.

For both diseases, the profiles of the most vulnerable people are identical: the elderly, as well as people suffering from a chronic disease (cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes) or immunocompromised.

>> Read also: Where does some people’s vulnerability to the flu come from?

Flu and Covid-19: what are the risks?

The case of this dual-infected Israeli woman may have had at least one precedent: In March 2020, all four members of a New York family reportedly tested positive for the flu and Covid-19, according to The Atlantic(even though no case of Covid-19 had yet declared itself in New York specifies the media!). A Chinese study also reported that out of 544 patients with Covid-19 in January/February 2020, nearly 12% were co-infected with influenza (A or B). According to Rui Zeng, one of the co-authors, co-infection was an important risk factor for prolonged hospital stay and patients co-infected with influenza shed SARS-CoV-2 longer than others. Covid-19 patients (17 days against 12 days on average).

From the end of summer 2020, when the seasonal flu was looming on the horizon, experts warned of the consequences of a possible simultaneous action of the two viruses, a phenomenon nicknamed “ twindemic by the American media. The main fears inherent in the combination of the two diseases are based both on the phenomenon of saturation that they could induce in the health services, but also on the limits of the immune system of individuals – which would have to fight two battles simultaneously.

>>Also read: Can you catch the flu… in summer?

Last September, the WHO confirmed in a press release that it was possible to contract the two diseases at the same time and advised to be vaccinated against both diseases – the most effective way to date to prevent hospitalization and severe forms. As to whether or not a double infection can lead to a more serious disease, it is impossible to say for the moment given the little information available to the health authorities on these particular cases.

In the meantime, prevention is essential and the barrier gestures are the same for both diseases: wearing a mask, frequent hand washing, use of disposable tissues and coughing in the crook of the elbow, ventilation of the accommodation, without forgetting to isolate from other people in case of infection. It is important to note that in no case does a vaccination against influenza protect against Covid-19 and vice versa ! These two infections are caused by completely different viruses: influenza A and influenza B for seasonal flu, SARS-CoV-2 for Covid-19.

>> Read also: Covid-19: Alpaca nanobodies to neutralize emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2

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