Will COVID-19 & the flu cause a 'twindemic?' What experts are saying about co-infection risks

Posted at 11:17 AM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 18:30:27-04

(WXYZ) — Health leaders have been talking so much about getting the COVID-19 Vaccine. But now they also want to ask the public to get the flu vaccine. They are concerned this flu season we could experience what some are calling a "twindemic."


"We are going to play this game. We are not going to forfeit the game," said Bob Petroff.

Bob Petroff is a fighter and isn’t about to let the flu spread without a challenge. He says that is why he and his wife Kathy came to the Oakland County Health Center to get their flu vaccine.

In the 2018-2019 flu season, the CDC estimates 28,000 lost their lives to the flu. It is a deadly virus.

So is COVID-19. Since the first confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in January 2020, the CDC says COVID-19 is connected to more than 700,000 deaths in the United States.

But last year, as COVID-19 spread, flu dropped.

Take a look at this chart from the CDC showing deaths from pneumonia, influenza and COVID-19. During the week that ended September 30, the CDC reports 3,606 COVID-19 related deaths and 4 influenza related deaths.

Do we need to be worried about the flu?

"Infectious disease researchers, physicians, practitioners get together and share the latest research on what is going on in the infectious disease front," said Dr. Payal Patel.

Dr. Payal Patel is an Infectious Diseases Physician at the University of Michigan who took part in Infectious Disease Week earlier this month.

A big topic was why was there less flu last year.

"I think that this year may be different than last year in that we were going into flu season last year without a COVID vaccine and so I think people were much better about masking and were a little more worried. The fears were a little higher last year," said Dr. Patel.

Dr. Russell Faust is the Oakland County Medical Director. He says, "Frankly without masks, we are beginning to see respiratory ailments ... pick up again this year that we were fortunately without for about a year. RSV, for example."

He is concerned about co-infections.

"A co-infection with COVID-19 and influenza increases your risk of dying, increases the risk of fatality by six times more than if you had either one of those alone," he said.

And those stats are pre-Delta variant.

"If anything, I think things are a little scarier now," said Dr. Faust.

"My advice to my patients and the general community is definitely to get the flu vaccine," said Dr. Patel.

Dr. Faust also said, "Get a COVID vaccine. If you are eligible for a COVID-booster or a third dose, get those."

CDC maps show how the flu spread before the COVID-19 pandemic. In October, Michigan and most of the country had sporadic influenza. Three months later, it was widespread.

"Try to get it as early as you can," said Oakland County Health Center nurse Kathy Stout, who gave me a flu shot as I worked on this story.

"It is important to get it every year," she said. She is proud to be giving a vaccines because they prevent tragedy.

Bob and Kathy Petroff say they have witnessed it.

"We remember when we were waiting for a polio vaccine," said Kathy. "So when a vaccine comes on that is for the health of the whole community. How can you turn it down?"

You can get the flu vaccine at your local pharmacy or at any number of community clinics put on by health departments. Click here for more information.

Search for nearby flu vaccines here.