WTF Is 'Flurona' and Is It Really Worth Worrying About?
Nearly two full years into a global pandemic, it's understandable if you're effing tired. With new variants popping up practically every other day (or so it feels like that), ever-changing public health guidelines, and trying to stay on top of your own mental health through it all, it's continued to be, well, a lot. And now you might also be seeing an influx of headlines and memes about a not-so-little-sounding something called "flurona," leaving you to ask, as The Cut so fittingly put it, "'what fresh hell is flurona,' exactly?" And "why is the world talking about it now?"
Simply put, flurona is a co-infection of flu and COVID-19. And with both illnesses currently spreading, more and more people seem to be focused on whether the odds of contracting the two simultaneously are actually growing, especially given recent news. Just last week, The Times of Israel reported the country's first "confirmed case" of flurona after a pregnant individual (who, BTW, was unvaccinated) tested positive for both COVID-19 and influenza. Additional cases of the co-infection (which is not a distinct disease) have also been confirmed elsewhere, including Brazil, Hungary, the Philippines, and the U.S., according to The Washington Post. But before you panic, know that it's not a new concept; instances of flurona were reported in America nearly two years ago. It just now has a catchy, clicky name.
Doctors and public health experts have worried about a potential "twindemic" (dual outbreaks of both viruses) since the start of the pandemic. But COVID-19 mitigation measures (e.g. wearing face masks, staying home, school closures, reduced travel, hand washing, etc.) contributed to "unusually low" flu circulation during the 2020-2021 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So much so, in fact, that the agency warns a reduced population immunity as a result of last year's low activity could lead to "widespread flu," with more serious illness. And, as of the week of December 25, the CDC confirmed that flu activity in the U.S. is increasing alongside record-high COVID cases nationwide (the latter of which are largely due to the highly- transmissible Omicron variant). Point being: There might very well be a greater chance of catching both viruses, particularly until this year's flu season subsides, which can be as late as May. (Related: Can the Flu Shot Protect You from Coronavirus?)
Meanwhile, experts are still learning about the potential impacts of flurona — think: the probability of contracting it and the effects of those who do experience a dual infection — especially since so much about the impacts of COVID-19 is still unknown. What they do seem to know, though, is that COVID-19 appears to spread more easily than the flu, which is likely why rates are not parallel between the two. "Of course, common sense would dictate being infected with two viruses is probably not good," said Jonathan Grein, M.D., director of hospital epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles told The Wall Street Journal. "That being said, we just don't have enough data, and we haven't seen clear evidence of worse outcomes with both infections."
If you're feeling under the weather, the CDC recommends getting tested for both viruses, which requires two separate tests. Though both flu and COVID are contagious respiratory illnesses, you can have the two simultaneously and present with symptoms of both. In other words, because they're classified as the same type of condition, they can cause similar effects, including fever/chills, shortness of breath, fatigue, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, and gastrointestinal issues (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea). But since they're caused by different types of viruses, they can also bring disparate symptoms to the table. For example, although technically possible, loss of taste and/or smell is far more common with COVID-19 than with the flu, according to the Mayo Clinic. Another distinction to keep in mind? Flu symptoms typically appear one to four days post-infection while those of COVID tend to present anywhere from two to 14 days. (See also: How to Tell the Difference Between COVID-19 and Seasonal Allergies)
Thankfully, the same preventative measures that protect against COVID-19 also work well against the flu, including wearing masks with two or more layers when around other people, washing your hands correctly, and getting vaccinated, and, in the case of COVID, boosted as soon as you're eligible. The good news is, you can get the two vaccines at the same time, making it even easier to significantly reduce your chances of becoming seriously ill with the flu and/or COVID-19 — a much-needed breath of fresh air in a time of consistently terrible headlines that sound like something out of the Sharknado universe.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.