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Contracting COVID-19 and the flu increases risk of severe infection and death, study finds

While it’s uncommon to be infected with both viruses at the same time, it comes with significant health risks

COVID-19 virus concept
Photo (c) Yuichiro Chino - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Edinburgh explored the severity of contracting both COVID-19 and the flu. Their work showed that both viruses are likely to increase consumers’ risk of both severe infection and death

“We found that the combination of COVID-19 and flu viruses is particularly dangerous. This will be important as many countries decrease the use of social distancing and containment measures," said researcher Kenneth Baillie.

"We expect that COVID-19 will circulate with flu, increasing the chance of co-infections. That is why we should change our testing strategy for COVID-19 patients in hospitals and test for flu much more widely.” 

Two infections are detrimental to health

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 305,000 patients who were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 between February 2020, and December 2021. Roughly 7,000 of the participants were tested for other viral respiratory infections, and the researchers monitored their health outcomes. 

Ultimately, 583 of the patients developed both COVID-19 and another viral infection; of that group, 227 patients contracted both COVID-19 and the flu. 

The researchers learned that the combination of COVID-19 and the flu posed the biggest threat to the participants’ health – more so than any of the viruses combined with COVID-19. Patients had a higher risk of requiring mechanical ventilation, and the risk of death was more than doubled for patients with both viruses. 

“Understanding the consequences of double infections of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses is crucial as they have implications for patients, hospitals, and ICU capacity during seasons that SARS-CoV-2 and influenza circulate together,” said researcher Dr. Geert Groeneveld. 

Moving forward, the researchers explained that getting vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19 is important so consumers can minimize their health risks.

"Being infected with more than one virus is not very common but it’s important to be aware that co-infections do happen,” said researcher Peter Openshaw. “The vaccines that protect against COVID-19 and flu are different, and people need both. The way that these two infections are treated is also different so it’s important to test for other viruses even when you have a diagnosis in someone who is hospitalized with a respiratory infection.”

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