Feeling run-down even after you kicked an infection? It could be a case of a “long cold,” according to a new study.
Much like long Covid, in which symptoms persist after a Covid-19 infection has cleared, other respiratory infections may continue to affect people who believe they are on the other side of a cold, researchers found.
“This study is important because not only does it reiterate the huge impact that COVID-19 can have (long term), but also highlights that people with other respiratory infections may also be struggling to recover from the acute episode,” said lead study author Giulia Vivaldi, statistician and epidemiologist on the Covidence UK study from Queen Mary University of London.
According to a 2022 study, 1.3% of children and 6.9% of adults had reported ever having long Covid, which those researchers defined as having symptoms that last at least three months after the infection.
The latest scientific paper, published Friday in The Lancet’s EClincialMedicine journal, surveyed more than 10,000 people, asking them to report on whether they had each of the 16 symptoms found in long Covid, Vivaldi said. Researchers also inquired whether they had had a Covid-19 infection, another respiratory infection or neither.
People who had been infected with Covid-19 and those who had other respiratory infections were both more likely to have symptoms persist than those who had not had either infection since May 2020, according to the new study.
The symptoms included fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, stomach problems, coughing and sleeping trouble, the report said.
The study took into account other health problems that may have influenced these symptoms, Vivaldi said.
Long history but little research
Researchers still can’t say how long a “long cold” could last in comparison with long Covid, but hopefully the new findings will motivate further work into the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of syndromes after an infection, the study said.
“Whilst in (among) the first to explore this prospectively, this is not a new phenomenon,” said Dr. David Strain, associate professor and honorary consultant at the University of Exeter Medical School in the United Kingdom. Strain was not involved in the research.
In the early 20th century, the 1918 influenza pandemic left many people with symptoms that lasted decades, he added.
“Today in the UK, approximately 280,000 people are living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME, otherwise known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) many of whom report a rather benign initial viral illness as the trigger,” Strain said in a written statement.
Previous research into lasting symptoms has largely focused on severe diseases, Vivaldi said, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic was one of the few times that medical research wasn’t focused solely on people who were hospitalized.
“It took a strong patient voice to bring long COVID to the attention of the public and the medical community,” Vivaldi said in an email. “In honour of those patients, we need to ensure that we do not lose the momentum we have in long COVID research, and that we take this opportunity to build our understanding and knowledge of post-infection syndromes more generally.”
Give yourself some grace
While there is still work to do in learning how to alleviate symptoms, it is clear from the experience with long Covid that persisting symptoms should be taken more seriously.
“People should expect a slow return to normality and not expect to immediately return to full activities immediately after an (acute respiratory infection) from whatever cause,” said Dr. Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London. Openshaw was not involved in the research.
To prevent getting long Covid, a study from February showed it may be helpful to get enough nutrients, sleep adequately, not smoke, drink moderately and get at least 150 minutes a week of activity.
That said, even healthy kids and teens can develop the condition.
It is important not to “belittle the very significant disability that some with Long COVID suffer,” Openshaw said in a statement.
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