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• Flurona is not a new strain of coronavirus. It is simply a buzzword used to describe testing positive for two distinct viruses — influenza and COVID-19 — at the same time.
• Contracting both viruses at once does not appear to pose additional risk for otherwise healthy people.
If there is one thing that hasn't been lacking during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s new lingo that the world has had to learn, from omicron to PCR.
Now comes the latest entry into the lexicon: "Flurona."
The term sounds like it could be describing a new, mutant strain of coronavirus. In reality, though, it is simply a buzzword used to describe testing positive for two distinct viruses — influenza and COVID-19 — at the same time.
Social media users were quick to pounce on the new word and put a humorous spin on it. One Facebook post declared that influenza and COVID-19 "done had a baby!! We finna die."
Other posts muddied the waters by not clearly indicating that flurona is not a single virus — such as one tweet that mentioned Los Angeles’ first case of flurona and called it "a combination of influenza and coronavirus."
Both posts falsely imply that flurona is a new strain of coronavirus that merges two separate viruses into one, and one of the posts jokingly mentions dire outcomes. But the term flurona is "more cute than medically important," said Dr. Stuart Ray, an infectious-diseases expert and professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Both influenza and COVID-19 are infectious respiratory diseases, and symptoms for both include cough, runny nose, sore throat, fever, headache and fatigue, according to the World Health Organization.
Contracting the two viruses at once does not appear to pose additional risk for otherwise healthy people, Ray said. "There is no evidence that this particular combination is especially severe or complicated," he said, though he said data is limited so far.
Dr. Jeffrey Shaman is a professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health whose research group has studied symptom severity among patients who have multiple infections. He told NBC New York that when common respiratory viruses are combined, "We generally didn't see… that they were particularly manifesting with more severe symptoms." He added, "We will have to see, though, with the flu and coronavirus."
As with COVID-19 alone, the caveat is that certain vulnerable populations are at increased risk of developing severe disease if they contract both influenza and COVID-19 at the same time. Those at highest risk include older people, and people with serious health problems such as heart or lung conditions, compromised immune systems, obesity or diabetes.
Co-infections now referred to as flurona have recently been detected in several countries, including the United States, Israel, Brazil, the Philippines and Hungary. Simultaneous infections with both influenza and COVID-19 were detected in patients as early as the first half of 2020, Ray said.
And while the phenomenon of co-infection isn't new, "the cute term may be," he said.
In 2020, because of social distancing and stay-at-home measures, influenza cases fell steeply in many countries, including the United States. From September 2020 to May 2021, considered to be the flu season, there were 1,899 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in the U.S., compared with about 200,000 cases in a typical year.
This flu season is shaping up to be a more normal one, though, with cases on the rise, according to PBS.
Since both influenza and COVID-19 viruses are circulating, "co-infections are pretty likely," Ray said.
"These viruses are transmitted in much the same way, so people at risk for one are at risk for both."
Both are transmitted through droplets and aerosols dispersed through activities such as coughing, sneezing, speaking and singing.
But vaccinations are available to protect against spread and serious illness from both viruses — and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises they can be administered at the same time. Other measures to prevent infection also are similar for both viruses, and include maintaining appropriate physical distance from others; avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated settings; opening doors and windows for ventilation; and wearing a well-fitted mask, according to the WHO.
The agency advises that vaccination is the most important tool to protect against severe illness and death from both influenza and COVID-19.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "2020-2021 Flu Season Summary," accessed Jan. 6, 2021
Email interview, Dr. Stuart Ray, professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Jan. 5, 2021
Facebook post, Jan. 4, 2022
NBC New York, "‘Flurona': NYC Experts Warn of Covid and Flu Amid Omicron Surge," Jan. 5, 2021
New York Times, "The Flu Vanished During Covid. What Will Its Return Look Like?," April 22, 2021
Mayo Clinic, "COVID-19: Who's at higher risk of serious symptoms?" Jan. 5, 2022
PBS, "After a quiet 2020, flu cases begin to rise again," Dec. 28, 2021
PolitiFact, "PolitiFact’s guide to commonly misunderstood vaccine terms, and how to talk about them," Nov. 23, 2021
Twitter post, Jan. 5, 2022
Washington Post, "What is ‘flurona’? Coronavirus and influenza co-infections reported as omicron surges," Jan. 5, 2021
World Health Organization, "Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Similarities and differences between COVID-19 and Influenza," Sept. 30, 2021