Possibly the only positive effect of SARS CoV2’s COVID19 is the amount of money pouring into viral research. With so many millions affected by this virus that we all wish would disappear, the number of research papers looking at treatment and prevention are growing exponentially. While the main focus of each study centers on COVID in some way, the secondary insights into immunity, viral pathology, and other bodily functions continue to advance science in these other areas. In one recent study by Vivaldi et al, findings below strongly support long held functional medicine contentions that other viral illnesses besides SARS CoV2 have been causing “long illnesses” long before 2020. It appears that Long COVID has a few fraternal twins that conventional medicine must now admit exist.
Within three years of the debut of SARS CoV2 and its COVID 19 illness, the entire medical world recognizes a heterogenous condition known as Long COVID or Post-COVID or Long Haulers syndrome. For these patients, they survived the acute viral infection whether with minimal or life-threatening symptoms, but weeks and even months after the acute illness, they continue with a variety of other symptoms. While the acute illness generally affects the respiratory tract and less so other systems, the Post COVID symptoms cross multiple body systems. Neurologic symptoms seem to be the worst aspect, but many suffer other symptoms which impact on their functioning and quality of life.
Functional medicine providers like myself have been treating many patients with similar varieties of symptoms for years. Conventional medicine does not usually take the time to treat these patients seriously- after all, they can’t label the symptom with a diagnosis code. Patients know that their symptoms began soon after some viral illness, but without studies to support this contention, the broader medical world continues to dismiss these patient connections. At least conventional medicine recognizes links between GI infections and later development of irritable bowel symptoms through disruptions in the intestinal nervous system. Functional medicine goes further and takes them seriously in regards to other chronological connections, especially with chronic EBV.
This study asked a very simple and obvious question, “do individuals with other respiratory viruses experience similar symptoms after non-COVID viral illnesses?” Another way to think about it is the question, “Does COVID act any different than other viral illnesses after the acute infection?” They found an answer that should not be surprising, at least to functional medicine. The rates of most symptoms over 12 weeks after a non-COVID viral illness were very similar to that found for COVID. While taste or smell changes and hair loss were not significant outside of COVID, the other 12 symptoms evaluated were very similar in prevalence regardless of whether the viral illness came from COVID or from another virus.
They evaluated a total of 14 symptoms listed below:
- Sleep problems
- Concentration problems
- Joint or muscle pain
- Stomach pains
- Voice changes
- Hair loss
- Heart racing
- Dizzy or lightheaded
- Unusual sweating
- Short of breath
With the growing consensus that even patients experiencing mild acute COVID infections may later develop Post COVID symptoms, the presence of similar rates of the same symptom after other viral illnesses should not be shocking. Yes, the severity seems a little worse in Post-COVID, but the main reason we recognize Post-COVID so easily is that so many contracted the illness within a short period of time. With everyone’s attention on this virus, it was easy to see the obvious Long COVID effects. For the prior viral illnesses, they would not get this level of attention as they walked into their medical provider’s office with these symptoms. Without this attention to the possible connection with a prior viral illness, they could easily be dismissed or simply told that time will heal whatever is affecting them.
Hopefully, studies like these and many others which emphasize that we have been missing links between chronic disease and past viral infections will encourage not only more research but more response from conventional medical providers. Until then functional medicine providers practice with confidence that we have been on the right track all along. Helping the chronically ill restore healthier, more abundant lives requires recognizing Long COVID’s fraternal twin Long-Cold and responding appropriately.
Article in Focus:
Long-term symptom profiles after COVID-19 vs other acute respiratory infections: an analysis of data from the COVIDENCE UK study. Vivaldi, Giulia et al. eClinicalMedicine, Volume 0, Issue 0, 102251
Thanks to Science Daily:
Queen Mary University of London. “Scientists discover ‘long colds’ may exist, as well as long Covid.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 October 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/10/231006104536.htm>. Accessed October 11, 2023.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.