A recent study has discovered that individuals who contract the flu are more susceptible to experiencing prolonged illness.
According to data, individuals who have been hospitalized for flu may be at a heightened likelihood of experiencing ongoing health issues, comparable to those with long-term Covid.
Although the symptoms of “long flu” seem to primarily affect the lungs rather than ongoing Covid symptoms, both conditions have shown a higher chance of death and disability in the months following infection compared to the first 30 days.
Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who conducted the research, stated that it is evident that having a prolonged case of the flu is more severe than having the flu itself, and experiencing long-term effects of Covid-19 is more severe than having the initial illness.
After witnessing the extent of chronic health issues among individuals who have recuperated from Covid, he felt compelled to research the phenomenon.
“Five years ago, I never would have considered the concept of a ‘prolonged flu.’ However, one of the main takeaways from this pandemic is that a virus that was initially believed to only cause short-term illness is now leaving millions of individuals with long-lasting effects of Covid. This has led us to question if similar situations could occur with other viruses, such as the flu.”
Al-Aly and his team studied the medical records of 81,280 hospitalized American patients with Covid and 10,985 hospitalized with seasonal influenza, tracking them for 18 months to understand their likelihood of death, hospital readmission, and various health issues involving major organs.
According to a study in the Lancet Infectious Diseases, individuals with Covid were more likely to experience death or be readmitted to the hospital within 18 months. However, both infections posed a substantial risk of long-term disability and illness.
In both instances, over 50% of fatalities and impairments took place in the months following the infection rather than within the first 30 days. Although individuals with long-term flu were more prone to experiencing lung-related symptoms like difficulty breathing or a cough, compared to those with Covid, both groups had a higher likelihood of experiencing fatigue, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal issues, and neurological symptoms related to other bodily systems in the subsequent months.
According to Al-Aly, there is a common misconception that recovering from Covid-19 or the flu means being completely free from the illness. However, our research has found that both viruses can lead to long-term health problems. Viewing these diseases as short-term illnesses only scratches the surface of the larger impact they have on individual health in the post-recovery phase.
“Many individuals are experiencing severe, ongoing health problems. It is important that we acknowledge this truth and stop downplaying viral infections. They play a significant role in the development of chronic illnesses.”
The research did not intend to determine the percentage of individuals who are hospitalized with influenza and later experience additional health complications, nor did it address whether specific demographics are more susceptible. The team plans to explore these topics in the upcoming months. It is also uncertain how many people who contract the flu but do not require hospitalization may still develop long-term health problems.
Currently, Al-Aly emphasized the importance of decreasing the likelihood of hospitalization from these diseases by utilizing vaccinations and, in the instance of Covid, antiviral medications.