The first known case in the Bay Area of a dual coronavirus-influenza infection was confirmed Thursday in Solano County, prompting health officials to urge residents to hurry up and get flu shots and double down on social distancing and mask wearing.
The Solano County Department of Health and Social Services described the unlucky patient as an otherwise healthy individual under the age of 65, but the county did not release any personal information.
Bela Matyas, the Solano County health officer, said the victim is older than 20, works in the “health care realm” and appears to have recovered from the co-infection.
“This is a very clear indication of the potential for this to occur,” Matyas said. “We now have flu in our community at the same time we have COVID … Contracting either disease may weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to the other disease.”
Not much is known about how contracting the flu would impact someone with COVID-19, but infectious disease specialists have long warned that co-infection could cause more severe illness.
“It certainly can’t be good to be infected with both and it may well be a greater challenge to the person who has both infections, and that could make the outcomes worse,” said John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “So we should do everything we can to prevent infections.”
The fact that the Solano County patient recovered from the two viruses may not be indicative of what is likely to occur in the overall population. It is just not a large enough sample to determine how the two viruses interact with each other, said Robert Siegel, an infectious-disease specialist at Stanford University.
That’s why doctors are forced to rely on common sense, which dictates that two diseases in one body put greater stress on the immune system.
“People who have respiratory problems generally do worse with the coronavirus, and the flu causes those problems,” Siegel said. “We want to err on the side of caution.”
But there is some contradictory information.
A small study in New York found no difference in outcomes when they compared patients with COVID-19 with patients who had both influenza and COVID-19. The data, released on Oct. 23 in IDWeek, looked at a small group of patients in the Bronx who tested positive for both tests early in the pandemic.
A Stanford study in April found that 20.7% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, were also co-infected with at least one other respiratory pathogen.
What doctors do know is that severe symptoms — high fever, headache and body aches — are more likely to manifest themselves early with the flu. With COVID-19, severe symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath, may appear from two to 14 days after exposure. Neither is treatable with antibiotics.
Pregnant women, children under 5 and older people with pre-existing conditions, like heart disease, asthma and diabetes, are the biggest concern with either virus, Matyas said. Fortunately, the way to prevent spread is the same with both — masks, social distancing, washing hands and staying home when you are sick.
The vaccine will also help, he said.
“Getting a flu vaccine this year is more important than ever,” Matyas said. “Vaccination not only reduces the risk of catching the flu, it also reduces the chance that you’ll be hospitalized. In other words, the flu vaccine will provide some protection and reduce your chances of needing to be hospitalized if you do get sick.”
Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com. Twitter:@pfimrite