The research was undertaken by infectious disease specialist Dr Maaike Swets of the University of Edinburgh and her colleagues. Dr Swets 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.”
The researchers studied more than 305,000 patients who had been hospitalized with an infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused COVID-19.
This makes the investigation the largest ever study into people with Covid and other endemic respiratory viruses.
The subjects in the study had all been admitted to hospitals in the UK between February 6, 2020 and December 8, 2021.
Of these, 6,965 tested positive for secondary respiratory viral infections alongside that of SARS-CoV-2 – with 227 having the influenza virus in particular.
The team found that patients who had a co-infection of both SARS-CoV-2 and influenza were more than four times as likely to end up needing ventilation support than those subjects who had only contracted Covid.
Furthermore, those with both COVID-19 and ‘flu were 2.4 times as likely to die of their illness than their counterparts with only the coronavirus.
The findings, the team said, highlight the need for hospitals to instigate greater levels of ‘flu testing among their Covid patients.
Furthermore, it highlights the importance of receiving full vaccination against coronavirus and influenza.
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Paper co-author and critical care expert Professor Kenneth Baillie of 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.”
His colleague Professor Calum Semple – a clinical virologist at the University of Liverpool – added: “It is now very important that people get fully vaccinated and boosted against both viruses, and do not leave it until it is too late.”
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Paper co-author and respiratory physician Professor Peter Openshaw of Imperial College London added: “Being infected with more than one virus is not very common but it’s important to be aware that co-infections do happen.
“The vaccines that protect against COVID-19 and flu are different, and people need both.
The way that these two infections are treated is also different so it’s important to test for other viruses even when you have a diagnosis in someone who is hospitalized with a respiratory infection.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal The Lancet.