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article imageAn autumn 'Twindemic'? When flu and COVID-19 collide

By Tim Sandle     Sep 22, 2020 in Health
Medics are generally sharing a concern about how the upcoming influenza season could impact the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, especially the severity of infections should an individual contract both viruses.
As the planet tries to gain its footing with a pandemic that has already killed nearly a million people and sickened almost 30 million, it faces another virus this fall that could devastate our progress thus far: the seasonal flu. That is, unless humanity takes action now to minimize cases with effective, widespread influenza vaccination.
This year’s flu season is set to be like no other, and this means that the medical response to it has arguably never been more important. One complexity is that coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (which causes the COVID-19 disease) and influenza viruses present with similar symptoms, leading to delays in medical diagnosis. The U.S. CDC has a list of similar symptoms between COVID-19 and the coronavirus.
A new study of hospital patients who contracted both diseases from January to April this year found a 43 per cent mortality rate compared to 23 per in people who caught coronavirus alone.
A key implication is the impact upon an already-burdened health care systems. Here clinical workers will be challenged by giving accurate diagnoses and treatments when the two collide. There are also risks with people admitted to hospital with serve flu symptoms from contracting the coronavirus in the ward.
Science researchers are still trying to understand their complex interactions, which could include having no effect, making one virus worse, or even having a protective effect on one or the other. According to Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England, the combination could well be serious:
"If you get both, you are in some serious trouble, and the people who are most likely to get both of these infections may be the very people who can least afford to in terms of their own immune system, or their risk for serious outcomes."
The flu season may also reveal further inequities in the many health systems, as flu immunization rates among minority populations (such as with the U.S. healthcare system, in relation to African American, Latinx/Hispanic and Native American adults) are lower than for the rest of the population. One of the most important steps that a person can take it is to have a flu vaccination.
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