You can get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time

Here’s what you need to know this week.
A doctor wearing a mask and scrubs holds up a syringe with a vaccine inside
A coronavirus vaccine may be available to high-risk individuals as early as late December. Dimitri Houtteman

The US is failing to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In the past eight days, the country reported one million new COVID-19 infections, bringing the cumulative total to over 11 million cases as of Sunday night. The Midwest is currently being hit the hardest, with the highest number of cases per capita, but infection rates are trending up in every state as we head into the holiday season.

There may be some hope on the horizon: This morning, Moderna reported that their COVID-19 vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in early clinical trials. Anthony Fauci said in a Today Show interview that high-risk Americans could receive the vaccine from Moderna or Pfizer, the other company with a promising vaccine in late clinical trials, as early as late December.

Right now, though, it’s as important as ever to take care to slow the spread of the coronavirus as well as influenza as flu season approaches. Washing your hands frequently, wearing a mask, keeping a social distance from others, staying home whenever possible, and getting your flu shot all help to protect yourself and your community from illness this year.

COVID-19 may lower sperm count and quality

Beyond the COVID-19 symptoms we are already familiar with, there are potentially far more long-term consequences of the virus we have yet to encounter. One of these, a new study published in EClinicalMedicine shows, could be a decrease in sperm count and quality among men recovering from the virus.

In a sample of six men who died from COVID-19 and 23 men who were recovering from the virus, researchers found that the rate of low sperm count and quality was far higher than in the control group of men who had never been infected. In the men who died of the virus, the researchers found indicators of inflammation and blood in the testes. In addition, 39 percent of the men recovering from the virus had low sperm counts despite having biological children in the past, and there were high levels of white blood cells in 61 percent of this sample.

It’s worth noting that this study used quite a small sample size, and that while it is unlikely that these results could have been coincidental and not related to the virus, it is not statistically impossible. There was also no sperm count or quality data from these men prior to contracting COVID, which means researchers can’t establish whether they may have already had low counts or if the virus caused a change. More research is needed to verify the findings of this study.

Co-infection of influenza and COVID-19 is possible and has already happened three times in the US

Flu season is beginning to ramp up and the pandemic continues to tear through the US, and according to experts, there’s nothing stopping you from catching both viruses at once. The third documented co-infection of influenza and COVID-19 was reported this week in Solano County, California.

Though these co-infections are rare so far, that is most likely due to the fact that flu season has not yet reached its peak in the US. Researchers believe that catching one of the viruses could weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to the other. And there are a few preliminary studies showing that people who catch both viruses could fare worse, Tara Bouton, a physician at Boston University School of Medicine, told NBC News.

The risk of co-infection is yet another reason why it’s more important this year than ever to get your flu vaccine. This simple act will not only help you avoid catching the flu, but will also help prevent the virus from spreading throughout your community and putting others at risk.

COVID-19 had twice the mortality rate of the flu among critically ill patients in the first direct comparison

A new study published Friday in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society is the first to directly compare the mortality rates of people infected with the flu versus those infected with COVID-19. The researchers observed subjects who were critically ill and hospitalized for one of the two viruses, and found a 40 percent mortality rate among the COVID-19 patients and a 19 percent mortality rate among the influenza patients.

Since the pandemic began, researchers have been drawing parallels between the novel coronavirus and influenza, since the flu is also highly communicable and is responsible for so many hospitalizations and deaths in the US each year. Both viruses can cause people to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome, but the researchers explained that this syndrome is more common in COVID-19 patients than in flu patients, and that this may explain the higher mortality rate. The study also found that coronavirus patients overall need to remain on ventilators for longer and are more likely to develop severe lung inflammation than flu patients.

Study shows that COVID-19 mutation can cause symptom flare-ups

A case study of a 45-year-old male patient at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston showed that COVID-19 mutated quickly, causing several surges of symptoms and eventually killing the patient five months after he was first infected.

The study, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, traced the man’s infection over those five months. The patient had a preexisting autoimmune disorder and took powerful immunosuppressants as part of his normal routine. He was initially hospitalized for COVID-19 and released five days later. However, over the course of the next two months, he was hospitalized three more times. Tests showed that the viral load was decreasing, but that it surged back suddenly. After treatment, the virus subsided, then surged again. Researchers analyzed the patient and found that he had not been reinfected with the novel coronavirus; instead, the virus had mutated inside his body.

However, it’s important to understand that viruses mutate constantly. We already knew that the novel coronavirus was mutating, and it’s not uncommon for symptoms to reappear after mutation. A consortium of researchers from across the country are already studying the mutations occurring in the virus. While this study may provide some insight into how exactly SARS-CoV-2 is mutating and what happens when it does, it shouldn’t be a cause for concern.