Earlier this week, Israeli media reported a person who was hospitalized with evidence of both seasonal flu and COVID at the same time. This unvaccinated and pregnant person had mild symptoms and was discharged without any complications.
A person being infected with both the COVID-causing SARS-CoV2 virus and an influenza virus can happen; we just had one such person in our hospital last month whom we treated and discharged without a whole lot of fanfare. However, the Times of Israel made a mundane two-virus story go viral by using a catchy, made-up name of “flurona” and reporting that this is the “first” such case in the country, which some people read as the first case ever.
Several news outlets and internet sites took it from there, with one Web magazine amplifying the anecdotal report into “a new nightmare to keep us awake at night.” Of course, social media was abuzz with anxiety arising from misinformation, such as that flurona was a combined flu and SARS-CoV-2 supervirus. Other people created memes mocking any seriousness attached to either of the infections.
We are in the middle of a raging COVID surge, coupled with flu season. Every respiratory infection that comes through our doors could be one of many things. The way this story was taken out of context is yet another example of the kind of internet-based misinformation that haunts all of us who are trying to fight the real crisis at hand. Physicians and scientists just don’t seem to be able to get the right message across to the public about what is real, what is treatable and what is downright false.
When a worldwide pandemic with over a million and a half new cases each day collides with a seasonal influenza outbreak among a world population largely unvaccinated against either COVID or flu, it is reasonable to find patients who may catch both viruses around the same time. I’m sure many other institutions in the Northern Hemisphere, where the seasonal flu incidence is increasing, are now seeing such anecdotal cases.
The signs and symptoms of flu and COVID are largely similar; this is one of the facts that is often twisted by misinformation campaigners to suggest COVID is simply the flu. Both of these pathogens spread via respiratory droplets or small particles, but they enter cells using different mechanisms. They are not the same thing, and there is no evidence of a combined supervirus.