People may suffer long colds as well as long COVID
Some people may experience long-term symptoms — or ‘long colds’— after acute respiratory infections that test negative for COVID-19, according to researchers.
Long COVID is well-recognised, and acute respiratory infections due to other pathogens may also cause long-term symptoms. However, the authors of the new study said that few studies compared post-acute sequelae between SARS-CoV-2 and other acute respiratory infections.
For the study, published in The Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine, researchers from Queen Mary University of London set out to compare the prevalence and severity of long-term symptoms after an episode of COVID-19 with those after an episode of another acute respiratory infection that tested negative for COVID-19. The study was the latest output from COVIDENCE UK – Queen Mary University of London’s national study of COVID-19.
Long-lasting health impacts following colds are currently going unrecognised
Researchers analysed data from 10,171 UK adults — 1,311 with SARS-CoV-2 infection (12.9%), 472 with non-COVID-19 acute respiratory infection, average age 62.8 years, 68.8% female, vast majority white — for 16 potential long COVID symptoms and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) between 21 January and 15 February, 2021.
The researchers found that “both types of infection were associated with increased prevalence/severity of most symptoms and decreased HRQoL compared with no infection”. The more serious a bout of illness, the greater the chance of having long-term symptoms, they said.
Some of the most common symptoms of ‘long cold’ included coughing, stomach pain, and diarrhoea more than four weeks after the initial infection.
Participants with SARS-CoV-2 infection had increased odds of problems with taste/smell (odds ratio [OR] 19.74) and light-headedness or dizziness (OR 1.74) compared with participants who had non-COVID-19 acute respiratory infections. They also suffered more heart palpitations, sweating, and hair loss.
Those in the non-COVID group were more likely to have a cough or a hoarse voice than people with COVID. Both groups suffered breathlessness and fatigue.
Commenting to the Science Media Centre (SMC), Paul Harrison, professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford, said: “COVID-19 infection was associated with a higher risk of several complaints, including memory problems, suggesting that ‘brain fog’ may be particularly related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
The findings suggested that there may be long-lasting health impacts following non-COVID acute respiratory infections such as colds, influenza, or pneumonia, that were “currently going unrecognised”, warned the authors.