‘Long flu’ is a real illness just like long COVID, study explains

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ST. LOUIS — A brand new examine suggests that folks can expertise ‘lengthy flu,’ a situation just like lengthy COVID. Because the outbreak of COVID-19, scientists have explored how the virus can have an effect on varied organ programs, typically leading to long-term, disabling well being points, a phenomenon referred to as ‘lengthy COVID.’

There have been frequent comparisons between COVID-19 and influenza, significantly concerning widespread signs like fever, complications, and coughing. Current analysis, nonetheless, has recognized one other similarity: the long-term impacts of those diseases.

Performed by a workforce from the Washington College Faculty of Drugs and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Healthcare System, this examine found that folks hospitalized with the flu might endure extended, antagonistic well being results, significantly regarding their lungs and airways.

Furthermore, the examine discovered that within the 18 months following hospitalization for the flu, sufferers have been at an elevated danger of demise, organ well being points, and hospital readmission, mirroring the patterns noticed in sufferers hospitalized for COVID-19.

“5 years in the past, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to look at the opportunity of a ‘lengthy flu.’ A serious lesson we discovered from SARS-CoV-2 is that an an infection that originally was thought to solely trigger temporary sickness can also result in chronic disease. This revelation motivated us to take a look at long-term outcomes of COVID-19 versus flu,” says senior writer Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, a medical epidemiologist at Washington College, in a media release.

“We needed to know whether or not and to what diploma individuals with flu additionally expertise long-term well being results, and the reply is that the flu can result in long-term well being issues – similar to COVID-19.”

The researchers additionally famous that the chance to well being was highest after the primary month of an infection – refuting the commonly-held notion that these sorts of illnesses are short-term ones.

“Many individuals assume they’re over COVID-19 or the flu after being discharged from the hospital. That could be true for some individuals. However our analysis reveals that each viruses may cause long-haul illness,” Dr. Al-Aly continues.

Doctor listening to coronavirus / COVID-19 patient having trouble breathing
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The examine signifies that each viruses can result in prolonged suffering, however the danger of demise and well being deterioration is considerably greater in COVID-19 sufferers in comparison with these with the flu. A key distinction lies within the nature of the viruses: whereas the flu predominantly impacts the respiratory system, COVID-19 has a extra indiscriminate influence, probably damaging any organ system.

“This reveals that the flu is primarily a respiratory virus, as has been believed for the previous century. In distinction, COVID-19 is extra aggressive and non-selective, attacking not simply the lungs but in addition different organs, resulting in extra extreme or deadly situations involving the heart, brain, kidneys, and others,” defined Dr. Al-Aly.

To conduct this examine, researchers analyzed anonymized medical information from a database maintained by the U.S. Division of Veterans Affairs, the nation’s largest built-in healthcare system. The examine examined 81,280 sufferers hospitalized for COVID-19 between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2022, and 10,985 sufferers hospitalized for influenza from Oct. 1, 2015, to Feb. 28, 2019. It assessed the well being results over the following 18 months.

Findings revealed that an infection and hospitalization because of both virus elevated the chance of disability and disease, although the severity diverse. Sufferers hospitalized with COVID-19 confronted a 68-percent elevated danger of well being points throughout all organ programs, whereas flu sufferers had a six-percent elevated danger, principally involving the respiratory system.

The first distinction between the illnesses was the death risk. COVID-19 sufferers have been 50 p.c extra more likely to die than flu sufferers. Moreover, COVID-19 sufferers had a better chance of hospital readmission and ICU admission. For each 100 people, there have been 20 extra hospital admissions and 9 extra ICU admissions for COVID-19 in comparison with the flu.

“Our findings spotlight the continued want to cut back the chance of hospitalization for these two viruses as a strategy to alleviate the general burden of well being loss in populations,” the examine writer says. “For each COVID-19 and seasonal influenza, vaccinations may also help forestall extreme illness and cut back the chance of hospitalizations and demise. Optimizing vaccination uptake should stay a precedence for governments and well being programs all over the place. That is particularly essential for weak populations such because the aged and people who find themselves immunocompromised.”

“Earlier than the pandemic, we tended to belittle most viral infections by concerning them as considerably inconsequential: ‘You’ll get sick and recover from it in a couple of days.’ However we’re discovering that isn’t everybody’s expertise. Some individuals are ending up with severe long-term well being points. We have to get up to this actuality and cease trivializing viral infections and perceive that they’re main drivers of persistent illnesses,” Al-Aly concludes.

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South West Information Service author Imogen Howse contributed to this report.

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