COVID co-infection and reinfection: Can they happen?

HealthU on WIS News 10 is sponsored by the Lexington Medical Center.
Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 7:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As our nation and state monitor the number of coronavirus cases, doctors and researchers are looking into whether someone can have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

U.S. health experts urge people to get a flu shot this year to help avoid what could be a “twindemic” of coronavirus and influenza.

Dr. Leah Clanton, a hospitalist at Lexington Medical Center, is warning that a COVID-19 infection could be coupled with a flu bug. And diagnosis can be tricky as there are a lot of common symptoms between the two.

“I don’t know that you could guarantee if someone presented with any sort of respiratory symptoms or body aches, generalized malaise -- I think it could be either,” Clanton said. “So I think we will probably be testing for both during this flu season.”

Doctors say those who have had COVID-19 should not assume the antibodies they developed will guarantee they’re safe from contracting something else.

“There’s no reason to think COVID antibodies would give you any protection against another virus, like the flu,” Clanton said.

She says doctors are learning more about this every day.

“When COVID first started, the idea was the co-infection rate was very low. That’s what was being reported,” she explained. "But what we have found in our studies and since time has gone by is the co-infection rate of COVID-19 with other viruses is actually very high. Anywhere from 20 to 30 percent.”

In addition to co-infection with another virus like the flu, Clanton says the medical world is watching to see if COVID-19 patients could face a “round two” of coronavirus despite having built up antibodies.

“We’ve had a couple of cases in our hospital that are questionable re-infections so it’s hard to say that these antibodies even confer a lasting protection at this point,” the doctor warns.

And that’s concerning to medical workers who know their halls could be filled with more patients when the flu season peaks in January.

Doctors are hoping society’s improved personal hygiene and social distancing will not only cut down on COVID-19 cases, but also decrease the severity of the flu this season from what it’s been in the past.

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