Cold and respiratory virus symptoms can persist like long COVID

Cold and respiratory virus symptoms can persist like long COVID

The Unrecognized Impact of Lingering Symptoms from Acute Respiratory Illnesses

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Researchers say long-term symptoms from non-COVID respiratory illnesses need to be addressed./Getty Images


As studies on long COVID continue, researchers have discovered that there may be lasting health impacts from other acute respiratory infections that are going unnoticed. In a study published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine, it was found that individuals who tested negative for COVID-19 but experienced an acute respiratory infection may suffer from similar lingering symptoms as those with long COVID.

Dr. Adrian Martineau, the chief investigator of COVIDENCE UK and a clinical professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Queen Mary University of London, states, “Our findings may chime with the experience of people who have struggled with prolonged symptoms after having a respiratory infection despite testing negative for COVID-19 on a nose or throat swab.”

The researchers compared the severity and prevalence of long-term symptoms between COVID-19 and other acute respiratory infections in which the person tested negative for the novel coronavirus. Their data was collected from COVIDENCE UK, a large-scale study with over 19,000 participants, focusing on data from more than 10,000 adults.

The Burden of “Long Colds” and Decreased Quality of Life

Out of the people studied, 1,311 had COVID-19, while 472 had a non-COVID acute respiratory infection. Both types of illnesses were associated with a range of long-term symptoms and a decrease in health-related quality of life.

Individuals with symptoms following COVID-19 reported problems with taste, smell, light-headedness, and dizziness. Those experiencing lingering symptoms following a non-COVID acute respiratory infection had various symptoms, including coughing, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. The severity of these symptoms was found to be associated with the severity of the initial infection.

Factors such as being female, a frontline worker, overweight, socioeconomically disadvantaged, or having co-morbidities had a higher likelihood of increased symptom severity.

The Overlooked Lasting Health Impacts

The researchers argue that the focus on long COVID raises concerns about individuals living with post-illness symptoms due to other acute respiratory infections who are being missed. According to the study authors, these post-acute infection syndromes often go undiagnosed due to the wide range of symptoms and lack of diagnostic tests.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, explains the phenomenon of chronic active inflammation following acute viral infections like COVID-19 and influenza. This prolonged inflammatory response may be responsible for post-influenza risks such as heart attacks and strokes.

Recognizing the need to define and diagnose these lingering conditions, experts are striving to improve the understanding of long COVID. Dr. Dean Blumberg, the chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California Davis, emphasizes the importance of developing a specific case definition to advance the field and facilitate research on causes and treatments.

The Challenge of Testing and Treatment

Similar to long COVID, there are no simple tests to diagnose lingering symptoms from other acute respiratory illnesses. As a result, diagnosing these conditions relies on clinical criteria that can take significant time to establish, as seen with chronic fatigue syndrome. Dr. Blumberg reinforces the need for a clear definition and subsequent research to determine effective treatment options.

However, the growing knowledge and understanding of long COVID may have a positive impact on individuals living with other lingering conditions. Dr. Schaffner assures that symptomatic relief is possible, and patients can gradually improve over time.

Defining Lingering Symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines long COVID as the continuation or development of signs, symptoms, and conditions that persist for at least four weeks after the initial illness. The World Health Organization sets a threshold of three months after the initial novel coronavirus infection, with symptoms lasting for at least two months and no other explanation.

While at least 10% of COVID-19 survivors are estimated to have developed long COVID, determining the number of people with lingering symptoms following non-COVID acute respiratory illnesses remains challenging. Dr. Blumberg highlights the absence of a clear definition for these symptoms as a barrier to understanding and addressing the issue effectively.

Shedding Light on Lingering Symptoms

Research into the long-term impacts of acute respiratory infections, including long COVID, is crucial for identifying the most appropriate treatments and care for affected individuals. As studies continue to shed light on the unrecognized impacts of lingering symptoms, health experts are increasingly recognizing the importance of comprehensive understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of these conditions.

The journey to clarity involves defining the criteria for various post-illness syndromes, conducting further research, and developing effective diagnostic tools. By doing so, healthcare providers can work towards providing appropriate care and support to individuals living with lingering symptoms from acute respiratory illnesses.