Can You Get COVID-19 And Flu At The Same Time?

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: October 16, 2020

While the world waits for a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, health officials say getting your flu shot this season is more important than ever. The seasonal flu spreads primarily in the fall and winter and can be deadly. Over the past decade, it has killed an average of 37,000 people every year.

While little is currently known, early indications are that it is possible to be infected with flu and COVID-19 at the same time. A recent study published in JAMA found among 1,996 COVID-19 patients hospitalized between March 1 and April 4, one patient was coinfected with influenza.

Flu vaccines reduce the risk of illness, hospitalization, and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during the 2018-19 influenza season, the flu vaccine prevented an estimated 4.4 million influenza illnesses, 2.3 million influenza-associated medical visits, 58,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations, and 3,500 flu deaths. And yet, despite the success of the vaccine, according to the CDC, only 45 percent of adults in the United States got the flu shot last year.

The flu vaccine won’t prevent a COVID-19 infection, but it can prevent you from getting the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously, a double infection that could be catastrophic to your health. While it is busy fighting one infection, your immune system may have difficulty fighting off a second virus. It is hard for your immune system to suddenly produce the different antibodies it takes to fight a second virus. Researchers aren’t sure how common this is, and studies are currently underway.

Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar. It can be a challenge—even for medical professionals—to distinguish one illness from the other. Both usually start with a fever, shortness of breath, cough, and fatigue, so if you have those symptoms, you may want to get both a COVID-19 and flu test.

In addition, if there is a severe flu epidemic during the pandemic, a phenomenon many are calling a “twindemic,” it could overburden the healthcare system, which is already under strain from COVID-19. So, getting a flu shot is one small thing we can all do to support healthcare workers during the pandemic.

So, while studies are underway, the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get a flu vaccine each year. Everyone aged six months and older should get a flu vaccine every year, including pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.