'Flurona' Is Getting COVID and the Flu at the Same Time — and It Isn't New — Here's What to Know

Although these cases are being reported as the first instances of the combined illnesses, they've been happening since the start of the pandemic

Covid testing
COVID-19 testing. Photo: Getty

Last week, an Israeli newspaper reported that two women had tested positive for both COVID-19 and influenza, leading to a flurry of concern. Other outlets quickly dubbed the condition "flurona," a portmanteau of the two viruses, and people fretted that there was an entirely new infection to worry about.

But while the dual infections are certainly something to avoid, getting them at the same time is not new — nor is it a new type of virus, explains infectious disease clinical researcher Laurel Bristow.

"While you can be co-infected with flu and COVID at the same time, 'flurona' makes it sound like they've joined forces to make a new super virus," Bristow tells PEOPLE. "It's just an attention-grabbing nickname. They're still two separate pathogens."

Though these cases, and several since in Los Angeles and other parts of the world, are being reported as the first instances of the combined illnesses, they've been happening since the start of the pandemic.

"One of the first COVID cases I identified at work in March of 2020 was actually co-infected with both viruses," Bristow, who works at Emory University in Decatur, Georgia, says. "It's not new at all and not unexpected either. Even before COVID we'd see co-infections of things like the flu and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] or the flu and rhinovirus."

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Just how many people are getting both COVID-19 and the flu is "hard to say," Bristow says, because the symptoms for the viruses are so similar. People would need to get tested for both viruses to know that they had them at the same time, and with many Americans only getting tested for COVID-19, an added case of the flu would likely go undetected.

But Bristow says that it's likely that dual cases of COVID-19 and the flu are increasing now, with both more common this winter.

"To get COVID and the flu at the same time, you have to be exposed to each. We're having a worse flu season than last year (which isn't hard, considering last year we barely had any flu at all) and with how incredibly prevalent COVID is, it's more likely that you could come into contact with people who have either, in a short time period, which could lead you to be infected with both," she says.

To protect against both viruses, the advice is the same — get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu, wear masks in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces and stay home when you're sick. And for people who do get infected with both, the treatment plans are no different than if you just had one of the viruses.

"One of the main reasons [these] co-infections haven't been widely discussed before is because it doesn't change the recommendations for recovery or isolation," Bristow says. "Still stay home, still get rest, still drink lots of fluids."

And Bristow said that while "flurona" isn't new, "hopefully this will at least put an end to the conspiracy that all COVID cases are actually the flu."

"They are two separate viruses that will show up as such on any test that's looking for either," she says. "And they have not somehow mutated into a single pathogen."

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