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Nearly 3,000 hospitalized with flu since September, amid ‘twindemic’ fears

Health Ministry urges vaccinations to counter both COVID and influenza, after first ‘flurona’ case identified

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital staff wear safety gear as they work in a coronavirus ward on December 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital staff wear safety gear as they work in a coronavirus ward on December 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that it had charted a worrying rise in cases of flu, which had all but dissipated last winter amid the many restrictions brought on by COVID-19.

The ministry said 2,825 Israelis had been hospitalized with the flu since September 1 as of last week, including 863 children and 181 pregnant women and new mothers. New cases were continuing to rise among both the young and old, the ministry added.

It urged Israelis to get vaccinated against the flu, noting the inoculation being distributed this year protects against the flu strain currently spreading throughout the country. The ministry said anyone over six months old should get the vaccine and noted that those eligible for a COVID-19 shot can do so at the same time.

“The flu virus can cause serious illness, such as pneumonia, other respiratory complications, myocarditis and even death,” a Health Ministry statement said.

Health officials have warned of a so-called “twindemic” of the two diseases. The term refers to fears that large numbers of flu cases and COVID-19 cases could overwhelm hospitals — not that many individuals will be infected with both viruses at once.

Last winter those fears were not realized when COVID-19 restrictions largely stamped out flu cases. However, this year has proven different.

On Thursday, Israel confirmed its first case of an individual infected with both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 at the same time. The two infections were found in an unvaccinated pregnant woman who had mild symptoms, Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva said.

Rabin Medical Center (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Beilinson Hospital at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some reports suggested this marked the first such dual case in the world, but reports of patients with both flu and COVID-19 surfaced in the US as early as spring 2020.

Health officials said it was likely many others have been infected with both viruses, but have not been diagnosed, the Ynet news site reported.

The identified case of “flurona,” as some have dubbed it, was relatively mild, according to doctors at Beilinson. “The disease is the same disease. They’re viral and cause difficulty breathing since both attack the upper respiratory tract,” said Arnon Vizhnitser, the director of the hospital’s gynecology department.

The woman was released Thursday from the hospital in good condition. Still, the Health Ministry was studying the case to see whether a combination of the two viruses caused more severe illness.

Last week, a 31-year-old pregnant woman died in Jerusalem after contracting the flu. The woman, who was not named, was nine months pregnant when she fell ill two weeks ago. After she was hospitalized at Hadassah Medical Center, the woman’s son was delivered by Caesarian section. The child was said to be healthy.

Last month, 6-year-old Yosef Naim from Netivot died in his sleep after going to bed with a fever. Health experts believe he was stricken with myocarditis — an inflammation of the heart — from flu complications.

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