PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It is possible to contract Covid-19 and influenza concurrently, health experts say, warning that if this should happen, the outcome can be life-threatening.
What's worse is that it's hard to tell the two infections apart, and the only way to differentiate them is through a medical test.
The Malaysian Health Ministry said the positive rate for influenza-like illness was up 10.7 per cent in the week between July 3 and July 9, compared to 5.5 per cent in the previous week.
Technical Committee chairman for the Immunise4Life Programme Professor Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail said dual infection of influenza and Covid-19, known as "flurona", was rare.
"But it is possible to get multiple infections," he said.
Dr Zulkifli said those who were over 65 years old, pregnant women, children under the age five and those with comorbidity were the vulnerable groups for influenza.
"It is almost the same as the risk of Covid-19," he said.
Universiti Putra Malaysia dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Professor Dr Zamberi Sekawi, said the overlap of symptoms could be tricky, given the similarities between the two.
"The symptoms can overlap, but if we talk about influenza, the patient normally has a high fever, cough, lethargy, and joint pain," he said.
"These last for about one week."
Severe influenza among the vulnerable groups could turn fatal, he added.
"Actually, the risk of death more than doubles when someone is infected by both the flu and Covid-19 viruses," he said, adding that the risk and severity also depended on the immunity of the patient.
Influenza is usually treated with anti-viral drugs.
"We have anti-viral drugs to be given to patients, but it has to be given as early as possible," said Dr Zamberi.
"It works within 24 to 48 hours. That would alleviate the symptoms and prevent complications."
Dr Koh Kar Chai, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, said that with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 spreading, it was difficult to distinguish its symptoms from influenza.
"We will need to rely on tests to identify the infection," he said.
"There are rapid swab tests for both the diseases that can be done at a clinic for a diagnosis to be made."
Dr Koh added that co-infection of Covid-19 and influenza could cause complications in diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
"It can be fatal for those with debilitating comorbidity," he added.
Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said the standard operating procedure associated with Covid-19 applied to influenza.
"The precautions for all three - influenza, the normal flu and Covid-19 - are the same.
"Wear a mask, practise physical distancing, personal hygiene and avoid crowded places.
"If you are sick, stay home; don't go to work," he said.