Fighting two viruses at once: The toll of COVID-19 and influenza co-infection


BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO) – South Dakota has seen widespread influenza cases this year on top of the growing number of COVID-19 infections. But something else doctors are seeing is a co-infection of both viruses in some patients.

The Brookings Health System has seen multiple patients come in with both COVID-19 and influenza. Dr. Jill Kruse says when that happens, it’s like their body is trying to fight two wars at once.

“Your body is divided fighting two different enemies at the same time,” Dr. Jill Kruse, a hospitalist at Brookings Health System said. “And unfortunately, your immune system only has so many soldiers, so many white blood cells, so many antibodies that it can use at one time or that it can produce at one time.”

That double infection can cause severe symptoms.

“Severe shortness of breath, severe cough, severe fatigue, probably needing a lot of oxygen, probably needing a lot of extra care, maybe transfers to do their daily care,” Bunny Christie, the infection preventionist at Brookings Health System said.

Doctors say getting both the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to help your body fight those wars.

“What they do is they go to your body’s immune system and says ‘hey, I know how to train your body to fight this.’ So, you’re basically sending your body’s immune system to boot camp,” Kruse said. “So if you’re going to fight two wars, you might as well have soldiers trained at both boot camps on how to fight influenza and how to fight COVID.”

“And I know there’s been a lot of talk of, well we just need to perform good hand hygiene and good respiratory etiquette,” Christie said. “While those are still really important, they’re certainly not the only thing you can do to risk mitigate for COVID.”

Getting vaccinated and protecting yourself will also help doctors fight those two infections in the hospitals.

“We’re just begging you. Do what you can to keep yourselves healthy. Get your flu shot. Get your COVID vaccine. And help us so we don’t have to meet you,” Kruse said.

The South Dakota Department of Health has reported over 19 hundred confirmed influenza cases this season so far.

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