Florona: Not a new variant, but a blend of COVID and flu. All that matter explained

Florona is a portmanteau of influenza and Coronavirus. It is not a new virus, nor a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 virus, but occurs when an individual suffers dual infection (co-infection) from the COVID-19 and influenza (or flu) viruses.

Is it a new development?

No. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has an entire page dedicated to explaining that people can be co-infected by the flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, loss of appetite, confusion, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, and high temperature (above 38°C). According to WHO, those with mild co-infection symptoms can be treated at home without the need for hospitalization.

Then why is it in the news now?

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth recently reported the country’s first case of Florona in an unvaccinated pregnant woman admitted to the Rabin Medical Centre to give birth.

Why is it significant?

The winter months are known as ‘flu season as the weather results in lower immunity against seasonal cold and flu viruses. Vulnerable populations for both the diseases overlap and include the elderly, those pregnant, those immune-compromised (such as HIV and hepatitis patients), those with existing severe medical conditions (disorders of heart, liver, and kidney), and healthcare workers.

Both viruses cause respiratory diseases and have similar symptoms such as cough, fatigue, fever, headache, sore throat, and runny nose. The symptoms for both can range from mild to fatal.

Both are also spread in similar ways – through droplets and aerosols when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, sings, or breathes, which land in the eyes, nose, or mouth of people who are nearby (usually within one meter). Another way of being infected is through touching contaminated surfaces and then touching eyes, nose, or mouth without cleaning their hands.

How can you protect yourself?

Preventive measures include social distancing, wearing a mask, frequent hand sanitization, avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth, avoiding crowded and stuffy areas, using tissues to cough or sneeze, and immediately disposing of it.

The WHO also recommends getting vaccinated. Since the vaccines are different, you will need both vaccines. The most effective way to prevent hospitalization and severe COVID-19 and influenza is vaccination with both the jabs, it said.

The influenza vaccine has been safely used since the 1940s for older individuals, young children, pregnant people, people with underlying health conditions, and health workers. The influenza vaccine is recommended to be taken yearly among high-risk groups.

COVID-19 vaccines are being safely administered across countries to those above 18 years of age. They include people with co-morbidities and chronic but stable conditions. Those with a history of severe allergies to vaccines or vaccine ingredients and compromised immune systems will have to consult their doctors before taking the COVID-19 vaccination.

If infected, what is the treatment?

As per the WHO, treatments for COVID-19 and influenza are different.

The treatment options for COVID-19 at medical facilities include oxygen, corticosteroids, and IL6 receptor blockers for severely ill patients. Treatment for people with severe respiratory illness includes advanced respiratory support such as ventilators. Several other treatment options for COVID-19 are currently in clinical trials.

Antiviral drugs for influenza can reduce severe complications and death, essential for high-risk groups. It’s important to remember that antibiotics are ineffective against influenza or COVID-19 viruses.

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