The pool was more than 305,000 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 and the results are from part of the International Severe Acute Respiratory and emerging Infection Consortium’s (ISARIC) Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium, which was set up in 2013 after the MERS coronavirus pandemic in readiness for the next one.
The team looked at the data of adults who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the UK between 6 February 2020 and 8 December 2021. Test results for respiratory viral co-infections were recorded for 6,965 patients with COVID-19. Some 227 of these also had the influenza virus, and they experienced significantly more severe outcomes.
Dr Maaike Swets, PhD student at the University of Edinburgh and Leiden University, said: “In the last two years we have frequently witnessed patients with COVID-19 become severely ill, at times leading to an ICU admission and the employment of an artificial ventilator to help with breathing. That an influenza infection could give rise to a similar situation was already known, but less was understood about the outcomes of a double infection of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses.”
Professor Kenneth Baillie, Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We found that the combination of Covid-19 and flu viruses is particularly dangerous. This will be important as many countries decrease the use of social distancing and containment measures. We expect that Covid-19 will circulate with flu, increasing the chance of co-infections. That is why we should change our testing strategy for Covid-19 patients in hospital and test for flu much more widely.”
Professor Calum Semple, Professor of Outbreak Medicine and Child Health at the University of Liverpool, said: “We are seeing a rise in the usual seasonal respiratory viruses as people return to normal mixing. So, we can expect flu to be circulating alongside Covid-19 this winter. We were surprised that the risk of death more than doubled when people were infected by both flu and Covid-19 viruses. It is now very important that people get fully vaccinated and boosted against both viruses, and not leave it until it is too late.”
Dr Geert Groeneveld, doctor at Leiden University Medical Center’s infectious diseases department, said: “Understanding the consequences of double infections of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses is crucial as they have implications for patients, hospitals and ICU capacity during seasons that SARS-CoV-2 and influenza circulate together.”
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