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What will happen when COVID-19 and the flu collide?

The battle against the current epidemic is still going strong, with almost 962 thousand people around the world losing their life so far. Though the COVID-19 appears to be the highlighted topic of this year, yet another danger is looming on the horizon. As the cold season draws near, so does influenza, adding an unperdictable variable to our reality. Thus, public health officials in the  Northern Hemisphere are fearing the worse while uncertainty prevails. 

Unpredictable territory

Though people in the Southern Hemisphere already lived through a COVID-19 filled cold season, the whole situation remains unpredictable. “We could see a perfect storm of accelerated COVID-19 activity as people gather more inside in particular, as they become increasingly fatigued with the mask-wearing, social distancing, and the hand hygiene, and as they are exposed to seasonal influenza,” said Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the infectious diseases division of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Moreover, since many countries around the world are on a razor’s edge when it comes to COVID-19 and since influenza remains to be an unstable disease, officials are advising all sorts of caution. 

The conjunction of influenza and coronavirus

Furthermore, experts are fearing the conjunction of both diseases for several reasons. Not only can this conjunction worsen the symptoms of both diseases for the patient, but it will also most definitely overburden the already tired health systems. Moreover, both of these diseases have similar symptoms. Therefore, people will get confused and won’t know whether they should quarantine or not. Of course, they can get tested but COVID-19 tests are often slow and expensive. Hence, the problem will increase.

The cold season in Southern Hemisphere 

Many countries along the Southern Hemisphere normally start witnessing flu cases in May. However, it seems that flu cases drastically decreased, or in some cases vanished, as the coronavirus started to spread. Experts are attributing the decrease in influenza cases to the COVID-19 prevention measures. Travel restrictions along with Lockdowns, school closures, mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing helped deter any influenza outbreaks. 

Thus, the uncertainty now lies in countries taking the least precautions. Moreover, since the world can’t stay quarantined forever, the spread of both diseases is bound to increase.

Battle for dominance

On the other hand, many experts are attributing the decrease of flu cases to the virus loss in a battle of dominance against the coronavirus. In the past, whenever a new flu pattern emerges, it pushes out another strain. For example, in 2009, when a new H1N1 influenza pandemic strain was descovered, the H1N1 flu strain, that had been spreading since 1977, disappeared. Thus, some are theorizing that this might also be the case with the coronavirus. Many believe that SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — and influenza will compete for hosts to infect. 

Furthermore, Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., states that  “I find it difficult to believe that there’s going to be widespread flu and widespread COVID activity at the same time. I think one of them will dominate. I couldn’t tell you which one it will be,” he says. however, he says that if asked to bet which disease will predominate, “I’d put a little bit of money each way.” He says the two diseases probably won’t both go gangbusters, “but I could easily be wrong.”

The triumph of both diseases

Though many believe in the virus’s battle for dominance theory, there is still a possibility for both diseases to win. Thus, a person can get infected by influenza and coronavirus at the same time. This was proven when hematologist and oncologist Balraj Singh discovered three cases infected with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza at the same time in new jersey. 

Moreover, the doctors had to intubate two of these patients. However, neither Singh nor his colleagues were able to determine whether the double infections made the illness worse. Furthermore, doctors eventually discharged the three patients from the hospital.


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