Long Flu: The Surprising Risks Beyond the Hospital

Long Flu. Did you know that the flu can stick around longer than we thought? A study suggests that folks who end up in the hospital due to the flu might face ongoing health issues similar to those with long Covid.

Surprising Findings

When you catch the flu and it lands you in the hospital, it turns out there’s a higher chance of dealing with health problems for a longer time. This research, led by Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly from Washington University in St. Louis, points out that these lingering effects, dubbed “long flu,” focus more on lung issues compared to the ongoing problems seen with long Covid. But here’s the kicker: the risk of serious problems or even death after getting the flu is higher in the months following the infection, not just in the first 30 days.

Connecting the Dots

Dr. Al-Aly got interested in this idea after seeing how many folks struggled with long-term issues post-recovery from Covid. It made him wonder: Could the flu do the same thing? Back then, thinking about a “long flu” wasn’t on the radar, but the pandemic taught us that viruses we thought caused only short-term problems might actually leave lasting effects.

Digging into the Data

To figure this out, Dr. Al-Aly and his team checked out medical records from over 81,000 people hospitalized with Covid and nearly 11,000 hospitalized with regular flu. They tracked these patients for at least 18 months to see what happened to them—whether they faced a higher risk of death, had to go back to the hospital, or dealt with other health issues affecting different parts of the body.

The Big Reveal

Their findings, published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, showed that while Covid patients had a greater chance of dying or needing another hospital visit in the next 18 months, both the flu and Covid packed a punch in causing ongoing problems.

Here’s the kicker: more than half of the deaths and ongoing issues didn’t pop up in the first month. They showed up later. Even though the flu’s after-effects seemed more about the lungs—like coughing or trouble breathing—both groups were at risk of things like fatigue, heart-related problems, tummy issues, and trouble with the brain and other organs in the following months.

Beyond the Hospital

Dr. Al-Aly stressed that many folks think once they leave the hospital, they’re in the clear from the flu or Covid. But the study shows that these viruses can lead to a long-haul situation, causing problems down the road.

He points out that thinking of these illnesses as only short-term is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more going on in the months after getting sick that can seriously affect health. Some people end up dealing with serious long-term health problems, and it’s crucial to understand this instead of downplaying viral infections.

What’s Next?

The study didn’t dive into how many people hospitalized with the flu end up with further health issues, or if certain groups are more at risk. But the team aims to figure this out soon. They’re also not sure how often people get the flu but don’t end up in the hospital, yet still deal with ongoing health problems.

For now, Dr. Al-Aly stresses the importance of lowering the risk of ending up in the hospital because of these illnesses. How? Through vaccination, and for Covid specifically, using antiviral drugs.

This study might just change the way we see the flu. It’s not just a short-term thing. It might leave a longer mark than we ever realized.