Study Suggests Long Cold, Long Flu Exist Just Like Long COVID

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Oct. 6, 2023 – Long COVID isn’t the only respiratory illness that has symptoms that can interfere with daily life for weeks on end. A new study finds that lingering symptoms from the common cold or the flu also can negatively impact people’s lives long-term.

People with long COVID were more likely than people with long colds to experience problems with taste and smell, hair loss, unusual sweating, higher heart rate, and memory problems.

Common symptoms among people with long colds were coughing, stomach pain, and diarrhea.

The study was published Friday in a sister journal to The Lancet called eClinical Medicine.

The findings are based on data collected in January and February of 2021 from people living in the United Kingdom. The people in the study were not vaccinated for COVID-19. 

This group was chosen for the study because they all had answered questions about long-term symptoms. At this time, there were enough people who had been infected with COVID to be a large enough group to study. However, since vaccinations weren’t widely available, the data was less likely to be affected by vaccination status.

Researchers compared data from more than 1,700 people across two groups: 

  • people who previously had COVID-19 and 
  • people who had a non-COVID respiratory illness, which included the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, and the common cold. 

A comparison group of more than 8,000 people with neither COVID nor respiratory illness was also analyzed.

“Our findings shine a light not only on the impact of long Covid on people’s lives, but also respiratory infections. A lack of awareness — or even the lack of a common term — prevents both reporting and diagnosis of these conditions,” said researcher Giulia Vivaldi, an epidemiology doctoral student at Queen Mary University of London, in a statement. “As research into Long Covid continues, we need to take the opportunity to investigate and consider the lasting effects of other acute respiratory infections.”

In August, the CDC estimated that 1 in 10 people who get COVID go on to experience long COVID, which was defined in that estimate as symptoms lasting at least 3 months. 

For this new study comparing long COVID to long colds, the definition was symptoms lasting at least 4 weeks.