Having COVID-19 and the flu at the same time is possible — and it’s even deadlier

EDINBURGH, Scotland — “Flu-rona” may not be an actual condition, but having the flu and a coronavirus infection at the same time is not only possible, it can be a potentially fatal illness. Researchers from the United Kingdom found adult patients with both infections were four times more likely to need a ventilator and 2.4 times more likely to die than people only suffering from COVID-19.

While mass testing and vaccination campaigns for COVID-19 are underway, there is less of a response for the yearly flu vaccines. The findings show the need to expand flu testing and vaccination in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 illness.

“We are seeing a rise in the usual seasonal respiratory viruses as people return to normal mixing. So, we can expect flu to be circulating alongside COVID-19 this winter. We were surprised that the risk of death more than doubled when people were infected by both flu and COVID-19 viruses. It is now very important that people get fully vaccinated and boosted against both viruses, and not leave it until it is too late,” says Calum Semple, a professor of outbreak medicine and child health at the University of Liverpool, in a university release.

People need different vaccinations for different illnesses

The researchers tracked the health of over 305,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 infection from Feb. 6, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021. It is the largest study to date on COVID-19 infection with other endemic respiratory viruses.

Of the 305,000 patients in the study, healthcare professional tested 6,965 for other respiratory viruses beyond SARS-CoV-2. A total of 227 tested positive for influenza and these people were more likely to experience more severe symptoms.

“We found that the combination of COVID-19 and flu viruses is particularly dangerous. This will be important as many countries decrease the use of social distancing and containment measures. We expect that COVID-19 will circulate with flu, increasing the chance of co-infections. That is why we should change our testing strategy for COVID-19 patients in hospital and test for flu much more widely,” explains Kenneth Baillie, a professor of experimental medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

“Being infected with more than one virus is not very common but it’s important to be aware that co-infections do happen. The vaccines that protect against COVID-19 and flu are different, and people need both,” adds Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.

The findings appear in the journal The Lancet.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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