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Health & wellbeing

A groundbreaking study conducted by Queen Mary University of London and published in The Lancet's EClinicalMedicine has revealed the existence of persistent symptoms, dubbed 'long colds,' in individuals who tested negative for COVID-19 after acute respiratory infections.

The research sheds light on the phenomenon of prolonged symptoms lasting over four weeks, including coughing, stomach pain, and diarrhea, following respiratory infections that were not caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Although the severity of the initial illness seems to influence the risk of enduring extended symptoms, ongoing research is underway to understand the underlying reasons behind this variation in individual responses.

The findings indicate that there might be unrecognized long-term health consequences following non-COVID acute respiratory infections, such as common colds, influenza, or pneumonia. However, the study does not yet provide evidence suggesting that these symptoms are as severe or persistent as those observed in cases of long Covid.

Funded by Barts Charity, the research compared the prevalence and intensity of long-term symptoms after COVID-19 with those following non-COVID acute respiratory infections. Individuals recovering from COVID-19 were more prone to experiencing light-headedness or dizziness and issues related to taste and smell compared to those who had a different respiratory infection.

Despite long Covid being a recognized condition, there have been limited studies comparing the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection with other respiratory infections.

The study is part of COVIDENCE UK, Queen Mary University of London's national research project on COVID-19, which commenced in 2020 and still involves over 19,000 participants. This particular study analyzed data from 10,171 UK adults, utilizing questionnaires and statistical analysis to identify patterns of symptoms.

Giulia Vivaldi, a researcher on COVIDENCE UK from Queen Mary University of London and the lead author of the study, commented, "Our findings not only highlight the impact of long Covid but also shed light on other respiratory infections. The lack of awareness and a common terminology hinder both reporting and diagnosis of these conditions."

"As research into long Covid progresses, we must seize the opportunity to explore the lasting effects of other acute respiratory infections. The complexity of these 'long' infections lies in their elusive diagnosis and treatment due to the multitude of possible symptoms, with over 200 investigated for long Covid alone," Vivaldi added.

Professor Adrian Martineau, Chief Investigator of COVIDENCE UK and Clinical Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at Queen Mary University of London, emphasized the significance of ongoing research. "Our findings align with the experiences of individuals who have struggled with prolonged symptoms after respiratory infections, despite testing negative for COVID-19. Continued exploration of the long-term effects of COVID-19 and other acute respiratory infections is crucial. Understanding why some people experience prolonged symptoms is vital, as it can guide us toward appropriate forms of treatment and care."

Victoria King, Director of Funding and Impact at Barts Charity, highlighted the study's contribution to raising awareness about prolonged respiratory infections. "Studies like this are invaluable. As we learn more about long Covid symptoms and potential treatments, this research helps build greater awareness around other extended respiratory infections that may be overlooked," she said, underlining the importance of these findings for broader public health awareness and understanding.