Covid-19, flu, bronchiolitis… is it possible to be contaminated by several viruses at the same time?

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While several viruses are currently proliferating in France, health authorities are concerned about possible “co-infections”. Several diseases can indeed infect an organism at the same time. La Dépêche du Midi takes stock.

An epidemic peak of bronchiolitis expected this week, an upward recovery in cases of Covid-19 contamination, an influenza epidemic already declared in two regions of France… From the mouths of many health professionals, France could coping well with a “triple epidemic”. The emergency services of many hospitals are already saturated.

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And if many viruses are currently circulating in France, the health authorities also fear the multiplication of cases of “co-infections” (the fact of being contaminated by at least two viruses at the same time). This is the case, among others, of the National Academy of Medicine which, last November, worried about a “risk of excess mortality linked” to these co-contaminations.

Possible co-infections

The phenomenon is not new and had already been mentioned last winter. In this regard, the World Health Organization indicated in September 2021 that it was indeed “possible to catch both diseases at the same time”. Asked about this question, Brigitte Autran, immunologist and also president of the Committee for monitoring and anticipating health risks (Covars), estimated in front of the cameras of BFM TV that it was however “very rare that we make infections simultaneously”: “Generally the defense against an infection in progress protects against another infection”, explains the sexagenarian.

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Indeed, a first contamination with a virus allows the body to alert the body’s immune defences. The human body certainly produces specific antibodies to fight against the virus responsible for the infection, but it also prepares the body to fight against other viruses. A study carried out by a Parisian hospital in July 2021 thus indicates that 6% of its patients contaminated with Covid-19 had also been infected with another virus.

A more dangerous pathology?

It remains to know the danger that these co-infections can represent. “It is so unusual that we lack reliable data, we have no answer to this question”, confessed infectious disease specialist Olivier Bouchaud, head of the infectious and tropical diseases department at Avicenne hospital, to the Parisian last January. “Co-infections can lead to viral interference, one virus limiting or suppressing the replication of the second virus”, explained the researchers in the previously cited study, but also “worsening of the severity of the disease compared to mono- infection”.

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Faced with the spread of these diseases, the French health authorities have called on the population to respect barrier gestures and to wear masks again in public transport.

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