Getting stuck COVID-19 is usually treated. The same applies to her flu or him RSV. But, if a person gets two of them at the same time? Then a really dangerous situation is created.
As the colder months approach, so does the spread of the three major respiratory viruses: COVID, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus.
The good news is that there are updated COVID-19, flu, and RSV vaccines for the elderly, pregnant women, and infants.
However, despite efforts at prevention, some unlucky few may contract not just one of these viruses, but two at the same time or in succession during the winter season.
Last winter was the first time Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at Johns Hopkins, has seen patients come in with both COVID and the flu.
Far more often, he said, patients had only one of these viruses. However, the number of those with flu and COVID he saw last year was “alarming.”
“Patients who had co-infections were by far our sickest patients,” said Dr. Galiatsatos.
How does one know if they have more than one virus?
When it comes to enumerating how many people experience co-infections, it’s hard to say.
Most of these diagnoses come from hospitalization, where doctors usually test for all three viruses.
For those who do not go to a hospital, they may not know that they have more than one infection, especially since the symptoms are similar.
Runny nose, cough, fever and body aches can occur with all three viruses.
Because of the accessibility of tests for COVID, it is more likely that if someone gets sick and tests positive for COVID, they will not seek a flu or RSV test if the infection is not dangerous enough to visit a hospital.
Testing for all three is not a necessity for everyone, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
The elderly, the very young, and those with weakened immune systems should definitely seek further testing once they do.
However, those who do not fall into these categories can be tested for all three viruses. Based on what doctors have seen in the past, it is more likely that someone has two viruses (COVID and flu) and not RSV.
What to do if someone has the flu and COVID
“The first thing is, don’t panic,” says Dr. Chin-Hong. If you test positive for COVID and have symptoms, seek medication for the condition within 5 days of illness.
If it turns out you have the flu as well as COVID, you can take antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours of symptoms, which can shorten the illness by a day or more.