Science and Tech


Long COVID is a thing. What about long colds?

Long COVID has been a growing concern among health officials, but some of those very same symptoms can happen to people without past COVID infections.
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Posted at 1:10 PM, Oct 09, 2023

Since COVID-19 began spreading in earnest in 2020, some people experienced a variety of symptoms months after their initial infection. 

Oftentimes, long COVID symptoms come after mild cases of acute COVID-19. Generally, mild cases of COVID-19 mimic a common cold. 

Researchers in Great Britain wanted to know if common colds can cause lingering effects similar to long COVID. Their findings were published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine.

The researchers put people into three groups: Those who had COVID-19 at least four weeks prior; those who had a respiratory illness and tested negative for COVID-19 at least four weeks prior; and those who had not reported either infection. 

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The study looked for common symptoms of long COVID, including brain fog, fatigue and breathlessness. 

What the study found was that those who previously had a non-COVID respiratory illness also experienced some of the same types of symptoms as those who previously were infected with COVID. 

The evidence, however, does not suggest that long-term complications from common colds are as severe or as long-lasting as post-COVID. 

"Our findings may chime with the experience of people who have struggled with prolonged symptoms after having a respiratory infection despite testing negative for COVID-19 on a nose or throat swab," said Adrian Martineau, clinical professor of respiratory infection and immunity at Queen Mary University of London. "Ongoing research into the long-term effects of COVID-19 and other acute respiratory infections is important because it can help us to get to the root of why some people experience more prolonged symptoms than others. 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 19 different ailments as common long COVID symptoms. The symptoms can range from prolonged coughs and fevers to neurologic and cardiovascular symptoms.

Many people with long COVID complain of persistent fatigue, drowsiness and brain fog.

The CDC recently said the prevalence of long COVID cases is declining. In 2022, 7.5% of COVID-19 cases resulted in long COVID-19, the CDC said. In June 2023, that figure declined to 6%.