Covid-19 and the Flu: The Threat of a ‘TwinDemic’

Image Credit: Flu shot. Source by Samantha Celera.

A healthcare worker in Solano County, California, has contracted both COVID-19 and influenza simultaneously, becoming the first person in the United States to test positive for both. Medical officials are worried that a “twindemic” may arise as winter approaches, and that the hospitals all across the nation may be overwhelmed with patients. 

Dr. Faiqa Cheema, assistant director of general infectious disease at Hartford Hospital, states, “At this time, we do not have clear numbers of coronavirus and flu co-infection. Health experts globally are worried about a COVID-flu ‘twindemic’, but are hopeful that standard COVID-19 preventive measures such as masks, physical distancing and regular hand hygiene could have a positive impact on the upcoming influenza season.” 

According to Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of California, San Francisco, how widespread these co-infections will be will “depend on what the flu season is going to look like this year. There’s nothing that would preclude co-infection. It’s not like COVID-19 comes in and takes out all the flu.” 

Although flu shots will presumably not slow down or prevent the spread of COVID-19, both doctors still state that being vaccinated against influenza is vital, as it will likely hinder the outbreak of more flu cases, thus reserving more medical resources and supplies for critically ill coronavirus patients. 

At an unprecedented time where the third wave of the coronavirus and the start of the flu season overlap, both the United States and Europe are bracing for a surge in cases in both viruses. In fact, the CDC reports that the U.S. has already distributed over 175 million doses of flu vaccine as of now, compared to 169 million in total last year. Furthermore, Germany generally orders approximately 19 million doses of flu vaccine from the pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur; however, this year, over 26 million doses were ordered. 

According to NBC News, “Spain purchased extra doses in hopes of vaccinating far more older adults and pregnant women than usual, along with key workers in health facilities and nursing homes. In contrast, Poland, which last year had 100,000 doses go unused, didn’t participate in this fall’s high demand and is seeking more.” 

The CDC reports that over 400,000 Americans were hospitalized and more than 22,000 died from influenza last year alone. On top of that, with the coronavirus, which has killed over 240,000 Americans and hospitalized over 10 million, hospitals in the U.S. will likely overflow with patients. Therefore, the World Health Organization released a statement last week encouraging everyone to get their flu shots as soon as possible, as the vaccine takes about two weeks to take effect. If more and more people get vaccinated and continue to wear masks and physically distance before the flu season and the third wave of the coronavirus strike, hopefully everything will take a turn for the better.

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