When COVID-19 and flu collide: Multiple factors determine severity

Public health officials have warned that the US likely faces a second wave of COVID-19 infections later this year, one that is expected to happen right around the start of the flu season. This is problematic for multiple reasons, not the least of which is that it is possible to contract the flu and coronavirus at the same time. A new report details four big factors that will likely influence the severity of the upcoming flu season.

In an editorial, Northwestern Medicine pulmonologist Dr. Benjamin Singer outlines four factors that may determine how severe the upcoming 2020 – 2021 flu season ends up being. The first of them is the most obvious — social distancing or the lack thereof is expected to have an impact on how widespread both viruses are this season.

According to the report, the spread of the flu can be limited with social distancing in the same way as coronavirus, meaning that if a spike in infections is experienced this fall, expanding social distancing may help prevent a spike in flu cases as well as new COVID-19 infections.

Increased rates of flu vaccination will also help determine how severe this upcoming flu season will be, the report states. Singer suggests that the rate of flu vaccinations should be increased, especially among the older adults who are more susceptible to both of the viruses. Work on a COVID-19 vaccine is still underway and unlikely to be ready in the near future.

The last two of the four factors include making fast diagnostic kits available that can detect both coronavirus and other respiratory conditions. According to the report, more than 20-percent of COVID-19 patients had a co-infection with another respiratory pathogen, as well. Finally, the report calls for improved health care services among the populations who are vulnerable, including older adults, those living in poverty, and people of color.

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