“It is very clear that long flu is worse than the flu, and Long Covid is worse than Covid,” said Dr Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, who led the research.
By Linda Geddes, The Guardian Science Correspondent, 14 December 2023
“Five years ago, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to examine the possibility of a ‘long flu.’ But one of the major lessons we learned from this pandemic is that a virus we all initially thought could only cause acute disease is leaving millions of people with long Covid, he said. “We wondered whether this could be happening with other things. Could this be happening with the flu, for example?”
To investigate, Al-Aly and colleagues analysed medical records from 81,280 US patients who were hospitalised with Covid and 10,985 who were hospitalised with seasonal influenza, following them for at least 18 months to learn about their risks of death, hospital readmission and 94 different health problems involving the body’s major organ systems.
The research, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, found that while Covid patients faced a greater risk of death or hospital readmission in the following 18 months, both infections carried a significant risk of ongoing disability and disease.
In both cases, more than half of death and disability occurred in the months after infection as opposed to the first 30 days. And while the symptoms associated with long flu were more likely to centre on the lungs – for example, shortness of breath or a cough – compared with Covid patients, both groups were at greater risk of fatigue, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and neurological issues and symptoms associated with other organ systems in the following months.
“Some people are ending up with serious long-term health issues. We need to wake up to this reality and stop trivialising viral infections and understand that they are major drivers of chronic diseases.”Dr Ziyad Al-Aly, Clinical Epidemiologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.