With the omicron variant continuing to sweep across the Garden State, Health Department surveillance data shows flu activity is also spiking, and that has health officials concerned.

It turns out you can get the flu and coronavirus at the same time — an illness that is being called flurona.

It's hard to know

State epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan said there is not a lot of hard data on this because it would require clinicians to test for both flu and COVID — and for people to seek testing.

“A lot of times when people are getting tested for COVID they’re not getting tested for flu at the same time, so it’s very hard to make a determination," she said.

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Tan pointed out that getting COVID or the flu can be serious, but coming down with flurona could lead to even more problems.

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A double whammy

“Co-infection with two different viruses could potentially lead to more severe outcomes, that’s why we’re really trying to encourage everybody to get vaccinated not only for COVID-19 but also to get vaccinated against flu,” she said.

Those with compromised immune systems can be particularly susceptible to flurona, especially because influenza activity has increased significantly in recent weeks.

Influenza spike

“Right now throughout the entire state we’re seeing high levels of influenza activity,” she said.

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Emergency room and outpatient provider visits dealing with flu-like illnesses have increased.

Tan said the flu virus that is predominant, AH3N2, “is associated with more severe illness, particularly among older individuals and younger individuals, so that means that this particular type of flu sometimes is associated with increased hospitalizations.”

She noted this is the first flu season in at least the past five years with high levels of influenza in all areas of the state in early January.

How do you know what you’ve got?

So how do you know if you’re sick with the flu, COVID, some other virus or just a bad cold? Testing is the only way to know. Many symptoms of all of these illnesses are similar.

"It’s very difficult to make the determination based on symptoms alone, so we highly encourage individuals to get tested," Tan said.

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