Sick woman battling COVID-19/Flu Co-Infection while maintaining isolation at home

Co-infections: What are They?

As if worrying about COVID-19 wasn’t bad enough, now we have “Flurona” on the table. More areas are relaxing pandemic restrictions as we continue to navigate this flu season. This makes the chances of COVID-19 flu co-infections more likely. Knowing the symptoms and treatment options for co-infections during COVID-19 can help prepare you in case you or your loved ones happen to fall ill. 

Important Things to Know About Respiratory Co-infections with COVID-19

There’s still much to learn about how COVID-19 interacts with other conditions. Experts are currently researching COVID-19 flu co-infections. Here’s what we know so far.

Unsurprisingly, Co-infections Can Lead to Worse Outcomes

Data from more than 100 studies showed the dangers of co-infections. Compared to those with only COVID-19, people with co-infections were three times as likely to develop a more severe illness. Hospitalization also increases the odds of developing other secondary conditions, such as sepsis.

COVID-19 Can Worsen Underlying Conditions

Respiratory co-infections with COVID-19 are only one concern. The virus weakens immune defenses, which often causes underlying conditions to emerge. The associated conditions of incurable viruses, such as herpes simplex, Epstein-Barr, and varicella-zoster, can all flare up during a COVID-19 infection. Viral infections that weaken the immune system may also make you more susceptible to COVID-19.

There’s Some Good News About Co-infections

While co-infection is something to take seriously and with concern, it isn’t all bad news. Although co-infections with COVID-19 do tend to worsen outcomes, the opposite is true in some cases. A well-timed viral infection could heighten the body’s immune response, making it more capable of fighting off a secondary coronavirus infection. 

A 2018 study examined this possibility. Researchers gave mice colds before infecting them with the flu a couple of days later. The mice who received the initial infection lived longer and showed fewer symptoms than the control group. The initial infection might create a response in the lungs that can help fight off the flu virus.

Co-infections in COVID-19 Are Becoming More Common

You might be thinking COVID-19 flu co-infections are unlikely. That’d take some serious bad luck, right? While it’s true that severe cases of “Flurona” aren’t too common, people do frequently come down with multiple viruses at the same time.

Thanks to improving diagnostic methods, it’s becoming easier to track when patients have more than one infection. New research is finding 14 to 70% of patients who end up in the hospital with the flu or other flu-like respiratory illnesses have more than one virus.

It’s also common for kids to end up with more than one virus at the same time. A combination of rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, and parainfluenza are sometimes found in children. “Coexisting infections with different organisms, particularly viruses, are the rule rather than the exception,” says Aubrey Cunnington, Ph.D., and head of the pediatric infectious diseases section at Imperial College London.

How to Treat COVID-19 Symptoms of the Flu

What happens if you get COVID-19 and the flu or another illness at the same time? Although multiple infections are common, it’s unlikely that you’ll get two infections severe enough to require hospitalization at the same time. COVID-19 flu co-infections aren’t necessarily the end of the world for people who are generally healthy.

When it comes to figuring out how to treat COVID-19 symptoms or the flu, start by following the basic advice that applies to both illnesses. Drink plenty of fluids, get enough rest, and use over-the-counter medications to manage aches and fevers. Be sure to also monitor your temperature.

If you’re a high-risk patient, contact your healthcare provider to see if you qualify for monoclonal antibodies or antiviral medications. Seek medical help if you begin experiencing severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing, sustained high fever, or difficulty staying awake.

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