Will the Term ‘Long Flu’ Join ‘Long Covid’?

Some laypeople, patients, and public health observers have begun using the term “long flu” as a way to describe long-term or chronic symptoms arising after the flu, mirroring the use of the term “long COVID” to describe the lingering effects of that virus.

long COVID

Uncertainty surrounded COVID-19 in its earliest days, stemming from the fact that it was caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and we didn’t know what to expect from it at first. We didn’t know exactly how (or how easily) it was transmitted, how deadly it would be, and if it would have lasting health effects for people who contracted it.

Concern about the possible long-term effects of COVID infection led sufferers to begin referring to their lingering symptoms as “long COVID” or “long-haul COVID.”

Many viruses may cause sequelae (a secondary condition or symptoms that arise from the original disease) that can last long after the initial acute infection. Medical professionals have always been aware of this, but before the days of COVID, it wasn’t of great concern to most laypeople when they came down with the flu or another illness.

In the absence of a label connecting acute illness and chronic conditions, patients suffering the effects of the flu may have thought of their long-term symptoms as unrelated to their initial infection.

Now, some health officials and patient advocates are attaching the label “long” (or sometimes “long-haul”) to other illnesses, including the flu, when referring to possible chronic or long-term complications arising from them. The moniker may be new, but the phenomenon isn’t.

Did Patients Invent Long COVID?

Elisa Perego, an honorary research fellow of archeology at University College London, claims to be the first person ever to use the term “long COVID.”

In May 2020, Perego posted on Twitter, “The #LongCovid #COVID19 is starting to be addressed on major newspapers in Italy too: ~20% of tested patients remain covid+ for at least 40 days.” This may have been the first time the #LongCovid hashtag was used on Twitter.

Perego and coauthor Felicity Callard, who both claim to have long COVID, wrote about how long COVID became a “patient-led experience” in the article “How and Why Patients Made Long Covid,” which appeared in the journal Social Science & Medicine in January 2021.

“Patients collectively made Long Covid—and cognate term ‘Long-haul Covid’—in the first months of the pandemic,” they wrote.

“Long Covid has a strong claim to be the first illness created through patients finding one another on Twitter: it moved from patients, through various media, to formal clinical and policy channels in just a few months.”

Perego, Callard, and others in an October 2020 opinion in the British Medical Journal urged continued use of what they called the “grassroots” term “long COVID.” They said, “Following intense advocacy by patients across the world, this patient-made term has been taken up by powerful actors, including the World Health Organization.”

They argued that the term is useful because it avoids the words “chronic,” “post,” and “syndrome,” words they believe can “delegitimize people’s suffering,” especially “when a syndrome or chronicity becomes associated with women and/or minoritized people.”

Increased Awareness of Long-Term Effects

In an email to The Epoch Times, Perego said she thinks it makes sense to use the descriptor “long” when referring to illnesses other than COVID infection.

“It’s an easy and effective way to communicate that many infectious agents, like viruses or bacteria, can have long-term, long-lasting effects on human health,” she said.

Recognizing that long COVID has brought attention to other diseases that may cause complications and chronic conditions, the authors of a June 2022 Epic Research study titled “Long Covid? Long Flu? Long Pneumonia? Yes. They All Happen” wrote, “The intense focus on understanding COVID-19 has created increased awareness of chronic, post-viral symptoms around COVID-19 infections.

“Patients who contract other respiratory infections and their doctors should also be aware of the potential for—and be prepared to treat—similar chronic symptoms.”

The authors found that following acute infection with COVID or viral pneumonia, 9 percent of patients reported new long-term symptoms. This reflected the finding of their July 2021 study that 9.4 percent of COVID patients seek treatment for what they then called “long-haul COVID.”

Among patients infected with the flu, 6 percent reported new long-term symptoms. Among patients with pneumonia caused by another virus, the figure was 11 percent.

Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) flu website.

It also lists complications of the flu, including sinus infections, ear infections, pneumonia, myocarditis, encephalitis, muscle inflammation (myositis, rhabdomyolysis), kidney failure, and sepsis. Flu also can exacerbate chronic medical problems such as asthma and heart disease, it states. The site does not use the term “long flu” to describe these complications.

Study: Patients With Lingering Flu Show Long COVID Symptoms

Researchers at the University of Oxford in England performed a study of long COVID that was published on Sept. 28, 2021, on PLOS Medicine. Titled “Incidence, co-occurrence, and evolution of long-COVID features: A six-month retrospective cohort study of 273,618 survivors of COVID-19,” the study compared long COVID symptoms to flu sequelae but didn’t use the term “long flu.”

Among the 273,618 COVID-19 survivors studied, 57 percent had one or more long COVID symptoms or symptoms in the 6 months after infection. The patients’ average age was 46, and 56 percent were women.

The most common long-term symptoms reported were anxiety/depression (23 percent), abnormal breathing (19 percent), abdominal symptoms (16 percent), fatigue/malaise (13 percent), and chest/throat pain (13 percent).

Other reported symptoms included “other pain” (12 percent), headache (9 percent), cognitive symptoms (8 percent), and myalgia (i.e., muscle pain) (3 percent).

A stated goal of the Oxford study was to compare the prevalence of long COVID symptoms to the prevalence of lingering symptoms after the flu. However, the study authors did not use the term “long flu” to describe post-flu symptoms, instead calling them “long-COVID symptoms.”

They noted, “long-COVID symptoms were found to occur after influenza, but were 1.5 times more common after COVID-19.”

This word choice may show a reluctance among these researchers to attach the “long” label to sequelae of viruses other than COVID.

Lyme Disease, Multiple Sclerosis May Also Deserve ‘Long’ Labels

Lyme disease, caused by tick-borne borrelia bacteria, can be treated with antibiotics if caught early. But some patients may develop chronic symptoms and develop what the CDC calls ”Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.”

Lyme disease should be referred to as “long Lyme,” argues Holly Ahern, an associate professor of microbiology at State University of New York–Adirondack, on Oct. 25 before the federal Tick-Borne Disease Working Group.

She implied that the name would help Lyme disease patients receive some of the attention and funding that now go to long COVID.

While long COVID is now the focus of a “well-funded federal initiative” (RECOVER: Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery) to investigate its long-term effects, the issues facing patients with “post-acute sequelae” of Lyme disease “continue to be largely ignored,” Ahern said.

“The medical gaslighting of chronic Lyme disease patients is as bad as it ever was,” she said.

An article on the American Council on Science and Health website asks the question “is multiple sclerosis ‘long’ Epstein-Barr infection?” The answer, says author Chuck Dinerstein, is likely yes, based on a new study published January in Science magazine. Studying health data on millions of U.S. military recruits over a 20-year period, the researchers determined that Epstein-Barr virus infection greatly increased the risk of subsequent multiple sclerosis.

Perego told The Epoch Times that she believes the moniker “has been instrumental in triggering a lot of research on the long-term health effects from SARS-CoV-2, and in reinforcing awareness of other diseases associated with infections. Recognition and research are critical to get treatment, care, and support.”

She added, “I truly hope more will come.”

About the Author: Susan C. Olmstead writes about health and medicine, food, social issues, culture, and children's literature. Her work has appeared in The Epoch Times, The Defender, Salvo Magazine, and many other publications. She lives in northern Ohio on the shore of Lake Erie.

Republished from: https://www.theepochtimes.com/health/will-the-term-long-flu-join-long-covid_4907499.html


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