I'm not someone who gets sick. Ever. However, this year I was taken down hard by a viral and a bacterial infection at the same time. In fact, I was so sick I had to cancel a trip. For me it started with a nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection, which prevented me from flying. A week later I did make it to my destination, and I returned with the flu. If you're wondering, like I was, whether or not you can get something like the flu and strep throat at the same time, the answer is yes.
My doctor said that because my immune system was already weakened from the cold and sinus infection, I was more likely to catch the flu. It turns out that contracting a viral infection like the flu and a bacterial infection like a sinus infection or strep throat at the same time is possible. And it's downright miserable. In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, most complications from the flu that become life threatening are the result of secondary infections like strep or pneumonia.
"If your body is focused on fighting a virus, then the bacteria have an easier time coming aboard not noticed," Texas-based pediatrician, Dr. Julie Linderman, told FOX4News.
Dr. Linderman said that one sign you may develop strep throat is experiencing new symptoms after you're already starting to feel better. "If for some reason at that point, you spike a new fever, your cough comes worse, you feel lethargic ... you need to see a physician because at that point you could have a secondary infection."
Seriously, if this happens to you it's important to get to the doctor right away. In 2014, The Roanoke Times reported that two deaths in the same family in Virginia were the result of a combination of the flu and strep throat. "A lot of times what we’ll say in medicine is just because you have one thing doesn’t mean you can’t have another, a second thing," New River Virginia Health District Director Molly O’Dell told the Times. "So if someone gets influenza, it certainly makes them more vulnerable to pick up bacterial infections."
She added that on their own, the flu and strep are not life threatening. However, together, they can cause serious complications. According to the CDC, "Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria."
In people with weakened immune systems, more serious complications can occur. "Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure). Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse," the CDC said on its website.
If you're already sick, stay home and take care of yourself, even if it means missing a trip. For your own safety and the safety of others, avoid public places. Above all, wash your hands often and drink plenty of fluids.
If you're healthy enough to do so, get the flu shot before you get sick in the first place. Because you can get the flu more than once in the same season, you can also get a flu shot after you recover so you're less likely to get it again, though having recovered from one strain of the illness does give you some immunity to other strains. I didn't get a flu shot this year, and after spending almost three weeks in bed, you have no idea how much I wish I had.