Move over long COVID, meet ‘long flu’

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve become familiar with the term “long COVID.”

Long COVID refers to what happens when the initial period of infection is over. You are no longer contagious, nor are you experiencing the respiratory distress, fever, chills, or other symptoms that first came with the virus.

But the coronavirus leaves behind other problems in your body that can be last for months: loss of taste and smell, fatigue, memory and cognitive issues, and joint pain, to name a few. It seems to be a bit different for each person.

But did you know that the influenza virus can do the same long-term damage?

When compared with COVID-19, the flu may seem like a minor inconvenience, something we don’t really think about. But in fact, a recent study has shown that “long flu” exists, too, and it is nothing to be taken lightly.

How common is “long flu”

Oxford University researchers analyzed health records of mostly U.S. patients who had been diagnosed with flu and Covid.

Two groups of just over 100,00 patients each — one group of COVID patients and the other of flu patients — were looked at to see which group had more long-term symptoms.

They included people in both groups who had been quite ill with their initial viral infection and who were still looking for healthcare for symptoms such as anxiety, abnormal breathing, fatigue and headaches three to six months post-infection.

The study found that COVID patients were more likely to have long-term symptoms — 42 percent had at least one symptom recorded compared with 30 percent in the flu group.

But, as one of the lead researchers, Dr. Max Taquet added, “Long-term symptoms from flu have probably been overlooked before.”

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What to watch out for when recovering from flu

Aside from symptoms now being associated with “long flu” which may be somewhat similar to “long Covid,” there are a few post-flu dangers the medical community was aware of before COVID was in the picture.

1. Increased risk of heart attack and stroke. A number of studies have linked the flu with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

A Canadian study confirmed that flu victims aged 35 and older were six times more likely to have a heart attack during the first week following a flu diagnosis than the year before or the year after. And the culprit is one you’ve heard of before: inflammation.

Scientists also believe that the inflammatory response triggered by the flu is behind the development of atherosclerosis, which in turn contributes to heart disease and strokes.

2. Secondary infections. If you’ve recovered from the flu and start to feel poorly again soon after, don’t write it off as a “relapse.” It’s probably a bacterial infection such as pneumonia, brought on by an immune system left weakened by the influenza virus.

3. Inaccurate test results. It can take time for the body to recover following the flu. Don’t be surprised if routine tests like blood tests and cholesterol fall outside their normal ranges. Your white blood count may be low. Be sure to mention to your doctor that you’ve had the flu, so they can factor this into your test results.

4. Physical disability and decline. Doctors and loved ones should pay close attention to elderly patients even after they seem to have recovered from a flu diagnosis.

A reason for that, according to Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, is the amount of muscle tone that can be lost every day when an infection like the flu puts you in bed.

“And if you’re already on the edge of frailty, it can send you on the downhill slide, and it’s very difficult to get your strength and your confidence back completely.”

Guarding against the flu

Besides the obvious, like vaccination, washing your hands a lot and not getting sneezed on, there are other ways to guard against getting the flu this winter — and you may need them.

The phytochemicals in elderberry juice have been shown to inhibit the flu virus from infecting cells at various points in the virus’s life cycle. It also stimulates cells to release anti-inflammatory cytokines.

And of course, we know that getting enough quality sleep strengthens your immune system.

Finally, stress is one of the biggest enemies of immune protection. Here are four natural ways to control stress and keep the flu away.

But what if you end up with the flu and COVID at the same time? It’s not impossible. In fact, it even has a name: Flurona.

Although this co-infection is rare, it’s a double whammy where infected persons can see the severity of their condition increase to include pneumonia, respiratory complications and myocarditis (which can be deadly if left untreated).

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Sources:

People also suffer ‘long flu’, study shows — BBC News

Incidence, co-occurrence, and evolution of long-COVID features: A 6-month retrospective cohort study of 273,618 survivors of COVID-19 — PLOS Medicine

5 Ways the Flu Can Affect Your Health Even After You Feel Better — health.com

Acute Myocardial Infarction after Laboratory-Confirmed Influenza Infection — New England Journal of Medicine

Long-term Risk of Parkinson Disease Following Influenza and Other Infections — JAMA Neurology

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.