(AscendHealthy.com) – There’s a reason so many people dread the cold and flu season. Influenza is never nice to anyone, but it can be harder on some people than others. For most of us, the misery ends after a week or so, sometimes with a lingering cough that resolves on its own within a few weeks. Other sufferers aren’t so lucky; their road to recovery is much longer — if they ever recover at all. We have the scary details.
Here Are 5 Scary Ways the Flu Can Affect Your Long-Term Health.
1. Secondary Infection Risks
Secondary bacterial pneumonia is a common flu complication that occurs in some people. Streptococcus pneumoniae is usually responsible, although Staphylococcus aureus is sometimes also a culprit. This infection can be aggressive and severe, accounting for many yearly influenza deaths. Pneumonia can cause lasting lung damage, especially if the person requires the use of a ventilator. Pulmonary rehabilitation may be necessary to improve long-term lung function.
2. Higher Risks for Heart Attacks
Respiratory infections like the flu can sometimes trigger heart attacks, with the biggest risks occurring within a week of infection. Researchers have found numerous strains of the virus can cause cardiomyopathy, a diseased state that makes it difficult for the heart to pump effectively. Other research has found myocarditis, or a dangerous inflammation of the heart muscle, to be another potential flu complication. Prompt treatment can help prevent permanent heart damage.
3. Alterations in Blood Work
Any infection will alter the blood, at least for a while. The flu can wreak havoc on the immune system, warns Health, so a bout with the flu may leave a person’s white blood cell counts off until their defenses have had a chance to recover. Infections can also reduce cholesterol levels — good and bad — so people recovering from the flu might wind up with inaccurate readings if they go in for blood work.
4. Long-Term Lung Impairment
The flu doesn’t always need a secondary infection or pneumonia to leave a person with lung damage. In some cases, the infection itself is enough to cause long-term impairment. One study details how the effects of leftover viral RNA fragments in the lungs may cause inflammation long after the infection has cleared. Examination of nearby lymph node contents suggests that the lungs may need months to remove all remnants of the virus before the inflammation can resolve.
5. Neurological Damage
Some influenza strains appear to hit the central nervous system worse than others, but H7N7 (a bird flu strain) and H3N2 (a swine flu strain) might be among the worst offenders. Research has shown these two strains, in particular, can cause structural changes in the brain that may lead to cognitive impairment. They might also cause chronic inflammation in the central nervous systems of some individuals, which may contribute to the development of psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.
The flu is nothing to sneeze at, even when an infection seems mild. Lasting repercussions might hit anyone at any time, and although rare, the long-term effects can sometimes be life-altering. The infection itself kills half a million people worldwide each year, but for many sufferers, survival is just the beginning of the battle. However, social distancing and mask-wearing practices might be just as effective in slowing the spread of the flu as they are in fighting COVID-19, so if enough people follow the guidelines, we may see fewer overall cases this year.
~Here’s to Your Healthy Ascension
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