News23ABC In-Depth


What the flu season is like during a pandemic

Posted: 12:48 PM, Jan 05, 2022
Updated: 2022-01-05 20:11:43-05
Flu sick

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — “Flurona is a compound word – its influenza – flu—and a rona – which is the ending for coronavirus,” explained Steve Farzam, COO 911 COVID testing.

Flu-rona, this combination of diseases first detected in Israel has now been identified in southern California.

While Kern County has not reported any cases of this illness, it begs the question of where is Kern County when it comes to flu related cases?

“COVID-19 and the influenza are both respiratory viral diseases so the way you protect against one also helps with the other, so wearing a mask, frequently washing your hands, practicing social distancing, as well as staying home and away from others when you’re sick,” said Parthiban Munnainathan, Associate Medical Director of Omni Family Health.

During this time of the year, health officials explain it’s normal to see an increase in patients from respiratory viral illnesses.

What is the difference between Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19?

Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a coronavirus first identified in 2019, and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.

COVID-19 seems to spread more easily than flu. However, as more people become fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 should slow down. More information is available about COVID-19 vaccines and how well they work.

Compared to flu, COVID-19 can cause more serious illnesses in some people. COVID-19 can also take longer before people show symptoms and people can be contagious for longer. More information about differences between flu and COVID-19 is available in the different sections below.

Because some of the symptoms of flu, COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses are similar, the difference between them cannot be made based on symptoms alone. Testing is needed to tell what the illness is and to confirm a diagnosis. People can be infected with both flu and the virus that causes COVID-19 at the same time and have symptoms of both influenza and COVID-19.

While more is learned every day about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, there are still things, such as post-COVID conditions, that are unknown.

- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

But with this year's expected patient case load, Executive Director of the California Immunization Coalition Catherine Martin, said it’s important to think about the strain this puts on healthcare workers.

“Now when we have COVID virus circulating and possibly flu virus coming up, we want to make sure we are not jamming up the system,” said Martin.

According to the CDC, the flu season in California picked up in December with 11 people dying from the flu statewide, whereas last year the California Immunization Coalition said the flu activity was non-existent.

“Not only did we see less flu in the community, and that’s very lucky because we did not have a strong uptake of vaccines last year. This year, another story, many people are out and about, more people are not masking unfortunately or it’s a mix depending on your community,” Martin said.

That’s why Martin explains, it’s important to get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.

“It’s extremely important for people to be vaccinated for flu this year, if you didn’t get the flu last year and/or you weren’t exposed to the flu, there’s even greater chance you’ll be infected this year.”

What should I do if I get sick?

Most people with flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.

If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are in a higher-risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider (doctor, physician assistant, etc.).

Certain people are at increased risk of serious flu-related complications (including young children, people 65 and older, pregnant people, and people with certain medical conditions). For a full list of people at increased risk of flu-related complications, see People at Higher Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications. If you are in a higher-risk group and develop flu symptoms, it’s best for you to contact your doctor early in your illness. Remind them about your higher-risk status for flu. CDC recommends that people at higher risk for complications should get antiviral treatment as early as possible, because benefit is greatest if treatment is started within 2 days after illness onset.

- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

But Associate Medical Director with Omni Family Health Parthiban Munnainathan reported the amount of flu cases they've diagnosed has been down overall.

“In 2021, we saw around 49 patients with the flu – to give you a scale of what that is – just over the last one month, we’ve seen over 50 patients test positive of COVID-19 – so over 6 months which is the highlight of the flu season of 2021, we’ve only seen around 50 – which is good, shows that the cases of the flu are not as high as they were previously.”

Munnainathan believes the safety measures in place for COVID-19 are helping keep flu cases down at Omni Family Health but added its still important to get vaccinated for both COVID-19 and the flu.

“They can get both of them at the same time, both of the vaccines will be effective, so you’ll have the antibody response for both of them, just like you’re getting them separately. The only concern that some patients have is you might have more pain if you get them on the same arm – so my recommendation is to get one on one arm and the other one on the other arm.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Michelle Corson from the Kern County Public Health Department issued the following statement:

"Flurona" is simply a co-infection where you have both COVID and influenza at the same time.

CDPH and CDC and warned of a potential for the "twin-demic" during the 2020-2021 flu season and watched very closely for it. But we saw little flu activity last flu season, so there's little information on the risks of co-infections, treatment efficacy, etc. Also, seasonal influenza is only reportable to the health department when a patient under 18 years of age dies of influenza.

Currently, flu activity is low in California, and weekly surveillance of activity statewide can be found [on the CDHP website].

It is important to talk to your healthcare provider when you have respiratory symptoms, because they may want to test you for other things, like flu or valley fever. Both flu and COVID have safe, effective vaccines that reduce the risk of severe illness and death.