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'Extremely contagious variant' | Doctors say omicron surge coincides with rising flu cases

Omicron is surging in ways we haven't seen before and there is also a rise in flu cases this season. One child has already tested positive for both at the same time.

HOUSTON — COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant have shattered records to start 2022.

RELATED: When will the pandemic end? Omicron changes the equation but doesn't overhaul predictions

It might be a new year, but the fight against COVID-19 remains the same.

Dr. Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and professor at Baylor College of Medicine, said the omicron variant is the most infectious version of COVID to date.

“It is so infectious (omicron). In fact, we’re terming it as an extremely contagious variant that is in the category of measles virus,” Versalovic said.

Compounding the issue, the omicron surge is coming at the same time other respiratory illnesses are circulating.

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“We are seeing an increase in the number of influenza cases in the country in general and we should not forget about it in the midst of this omicron surge," Dr. Hana El Sahly, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine said.

Health experts said the flu peaks after the holidays and cases are being reported in the Houston area already.

Versalovic said Texas Children’s Hospital has already seen more than 90 pediatric flu cases since Thanksgiving, which is already more than this time last year. Also, he said the hospital confirmed its first case of co-infection of the flu and COVID-19 in a child. Versalovic said the child is doing OK and is currently not hospitalized.

“Fortunately, I want to be very straight here about flu here, is we do not have anything approaching a surge or spike of influenza,” Versalovic said.

While symptoms of omicron, the common cold and the flu are similar but not all the same, El Sahly said over-the-counter medicines will only do so much so it’s important to get diagnosed.

“If someone is sick enough, for example, to require treatment ... the treatments are different,” El Sahly said.

Experts said the best thing anyone can do to protect themselves is to get both the COVID vaccine and flu shot if they’re eligible.

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