A triple threat: What happens if you contract delta, omicron and the flu?

"There's nothing stopping a person from getting influenza, plus omicron, plus delta."

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Friday, December 10, 2021
What happens if you contract delta, omicron and the flu?
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Doctors fear the highly-contagious delta and omicron variants circulating with the flu will pose a triple threat this winter.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Doctors fear the highly-contagious delta and omicron variants circulating with the flu will pose a triple threat this winter.

In the same hospital where the first U.S. case of the omicron variant was detected, researchers are now working to understand the impact of contracting multiple COVID infections and the flu all at once.

In other words, it's called: the triple threat.

"There's nothing stopping a person from getting influenza, plus omicron, plus delta," said UCSF's Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, who specializes in infectious diseases. "That interaction may make people sicker."

RELATED: Bay Area health experts warn omicron surge is coming, but will it be worse than delta?

While it's possible to contract all three viruses, UCSF's Dr. Michael Matthay says the more common scenario is being infected with at least one COVID variant, like Delta and the flu.

"I hope it doesn't happen in high numbers," said Matthay, who is a pulmonologist and senior critical care specialist at UCSF.

RELATED: Early reports on COVID-19 omicron variant encouraging, Fauci says

Q & A with Dr. Matthay

Q: What happens if patients get diagnosed with both COVID and the flu?

A: "We would anticipate the symptoms to be more severe and might occur more rapidly... so the patients might become sicker more rapidly with both."

Matthay says infection with both viruses will likely result in more severe symptoms of a cold, fever, sore throat, and upper respiratory issues. If untreated, the two viruses could lead to difficulty breathing and pneumonia even faster.

Q: "How can people tell if they have COVID and the flu, since the symptoms are so similar?"

A: "It is really hard to distinguish the two by symptoms. They can be overlapping, very similar. They really need to see a physician. It's too hard to do this at home."

RELATED: Is a 'twindemic' coming? Bay Area sees flu cases rising as omicron variant spreads

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to determine how common it is to contract multiple infections all at once. But, despite not having an abundance of local cases, experts caution the risk may be more likely than we think over the holidays.

"We'll know more in another month about that combination," said Matthay. "There's enough people who aren't vaccinated for flu or for COVID so that could very well occur."

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