Sick Woman. Flu. Woman Caught Cold. Sneezing into Tissue

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LONDON — Feeling sick and can’t shake it off? A new study finds people worrying that they have long COVID may actually be dealing with something completely different — a “long cold.” According to researchers in London, people who test negative for COVID-19 can still have their own version of a lingering illness following acute respiratory infections. Simply put, long COVID isn’t the only condition that may stay with you for weeks or possibly months.

Common symptoms of a “long cold” include persistent coughing, stomach pain, and diarrhea extending beyond four weeks from the initial infection. This is based on findings from a research team at Queen Mary University of London.

The severity of the illness seems to be a primary determinant of the risk for prolonged symptoms. However, investigations are ongoing to determine why certain individuals experience prolonged symptoms while others do not.

The study, published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine, suggests that there might be persistent health effects following non-COVID acute respiratory infections, like colds, flu, or pneumonia. These effects currently remain largely unnoticed. Yet, researchers have not found evidence indicating that these symptoms are as severe or long-lasting as those of long COVID.

“Our findings shine a light not only on the impact of long COVID on people’s lives, but also other respiratory infections. A lack of awareness—or even the lack of a common term —prevents both reporting and diagnosis of these conditions,” says lead study author Giulia Vivaldi, a researcher on COVIDENCE UK from Queen Mary University of London, in a media release.

Woman feeling sick on couch with COVID or flu symptoms
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“As research into long COVID continues, we need to take the opportunity to investigate and consider the lasting effects of other acute respiratory infections,” Vivaldi continues.

“These ‘long’ infections are so difficult to diagnose and treat primarily because of a lack of diagnostic tests and there being so many possible symptoms. There have been more than 200 investigated for long COVID alone.”

The study juxtaposed the prevalence and severity of long-term symptoms post-COVID-19 infection with those following another acute respiratory infection that tested COVID-negative. Those recovering from COVID-19 were found more likely to experience symptoms like dizziness and issues with taste and smell compared to individuals who had non-COVID respiratory infections.

Although long COVID is a recognized medical condition, few studies exist that compare its long-term symptoms with those from other respiratory infections post-SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection. This research is one of the latest findings from COVIDENCE UK, an extensive study of COVID-19 by Queen Mary University of London, initiated in 2020. The study continues to monitor over 19,000 participants.

For this specific research, the team analyzed data from over 10,000 U.K. adults, with information gathered through questionnaires. They conducted a statistical analysis to pinpoint symptom clusters.

“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,” says Professor Adrian Martineau, Chief Investigator of COVIDENCE UK and Clinical Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Queen Mary University of London.

“Ongoing research into the long-term effects of COVID-19 and other acute respiratory infections is important because it can help us to get to the root of why some people experience more prolonged symptoms than others. Ultimately this could help us to identify the most appropriate form of treatment and care for affected people.”

“These findings highlight not only the long-term symptoms experienced by people after COVID infection, but by people after other acute respiratory infections as well. As we learn more about long COVID symptoms and their possible treatments, studies like this help to build greater awareness around other prolonged respiratory infections that may be going unrecognized,” concludes Victoria King, Director of Funding and Impact at Barts Charity.

Long COVID has 7 persistent symptoms

COVID researchers have been studying long COVID for almost as long as the viral itself. While some teams have identified more than 200 symptoms with a link to long COVID, one study argues there are typically only seven which patients persistently experience for weeks, months, and possibly years.

The seven long COVID symptoms are:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Hair loss
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Obesity

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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