Getting Sick In 2023: The Flu, A Cold Or COVID?

The virus landscape has changed a lot since late 2019. In the pre-COVID world, when we got a runny nose, a cough or a sore throat, it was usually obvious what bug was bothering us. Now the answer is usually less obvious and more troubling.

What Do Other Researchers Say?

A preprint* by Geismar et al., (2022), found that respiratory viruses** like the flu, RSV, or the common cold, that were suppressed by the lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic have started to circulate alongside COVID-19. This study found that the symptoms of these illnesses are growing more similar. This is problematic on multiple levels because its making it increasingly difficult to track the symptoms of a disease in a population without getting a clear cut diagnosis. Something that’s only getting harder to get as testing becomes less common, as we throw off the shackles of the pandemic.

This information was based on 2 household community cohort studies which compared data collected on

✔ Influenza (the flu)

✔ Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

✔ Rhinovirus (common cause of a cold)

✔ Seasonal coronavirus, and

✔ COVID-19.

Virus = COVID-19, Influenza (Flu), RSV, Rhinovirus (Common Cold), Seasonal Coronaviruses. This data was collected during Flu Watch (2006-2011) and Virus Watch (2020-2022), in England and Wales.

*A paper that is in the process of being peer-reviewed.

**A contagious virus that causes infections of the respiratory/breathing tract.

How Do these Co-Circulating Viruses Affect South Africans?

2023 is the start of something new and exciting for us and for viruses across South Africa. For many of these illness, the back to school fever that grips the country is when things really start to spread.

The role of children in the transmission of COVID-19 is still hotly debated, as children are thought to be less efficient at transmitting the virus than adults (Kovacevic et al., 2021). But kids are seen as the main drivers of infection for viruses like influenza (flu) and RSV (Kovacevic et al., 2021). This was seen clearly in the results of one study in Southampton, UK. Researchers saw a sharp increase in rhinovirus (common cold) infections among adults who were admitted to hospitals after the reopening of schools in September 2020 (Kovacevic et al., 2021). So what, you might say.

Why Does It Matter If I Get A Cold Or The Flu?

Well as you might guess considering the entire article on the subject it, not to mention all the researchers studying the issue, it does matter. There are some real consequences, when not only are people getting both COVID-19 and another virus at the same time, but many people have no idea what virus they’re sick with.

So let’s answer the big questions.

Why Does It Matter That People Don’t Know What Virus They Have?

When there is a strong surge in positive infections for a virus that is not COVID-19 post 2020, it strongly increases the daily demand for COVID-19 testing (Kovacevic et al., 2022), whilst making it look like the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 is going down (Kovacevic et al., 2022).

This distorts and masks the real risk COVID-19 poses to the public, creating a false sense of security (Kovacevic et al., 2022). This is because COVID-19 has not really gone down during that period, the pool of testers has simply got larger (Kovacevic et al., 2022).

What Happens If You Get COVID-19 And Another Respiratory Virus?

The short answer is ‘flurona’. Despite it’s catchy sounding name ‘Flurona’ is not a new virus, it’s just someone with COVID-19 and the flu.

There’s also no evidence to suggest that Flurona is some kind of combined super-virus. It’s just a coinfection, something that often happens with a COVID-19 infection, according to researchers (Pakzad et al., 2021).

A coinfection is when a ‘host’ (the person/animal/plant infected) has 2 or more infections of a virus and/or bacteria at the same time. According to a comprehensive updated systematic review and meta-analysis* by Pakzad et al., (2021), the most common coinfection with COVID-19 is a bacterial infection at 20.97% of cases. Next comes viral coinfections at 12.58% and then fungal coinfections at 12.60%.

How Is Epicentre Helping This Issue?

In a couple of ways, firstly we’re helping scientists to develop and test Rapid Antigen tests that pick up a wide range of viruses in one test.

This is being done as part of our SAMS study, you can learn more about it by clicking on the YouTube link on the picture here. Secondly, as part of projects like Cough Check, which I’d also highly recommend learning more about. It’s always nice to know how people are trying to fix a problem.

Click on the image on the left to be directed to a YouTube video about our SAMS study!

*They took a bunch of other people’s research studies that answered their question and analyzed their results, and then averaged their results to find the most middle answer to their question. It’s also called ‘updated’, because other people did this in 2020, so they’re looking at newer results from research that has been done since then.

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