Higher burden of neurological disease post-influenza compared to COVID-19

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In a recent study published in Neurology, researchers found that individuals hospitalized with influenza are more likely to require medical attention for neurologic disorders within the following year than those hospitalized with COVID-19.

This outcome came as a surprise, especially considering the widespread concern regarding the neurologic symptoms associated with long COVID.

However, it’s important to clarify that this study did not delve into long COVID outcomes specifically.

Conducted by a team including Brian C. Callaghan, MD, MS, FAAN, from the University of Michigan Health and Adam de Havenon, MD, MSc, from Yale University, the research aimed to compare the post-hospitalization neurologic health between COVID-19 and influenza patients.

Utilizing healthcare claims data, the team examined the medical records of 77,272 individuals for each condition, focusing on six common neurologic disorders: migraine, epilepsy, stroke, neuropathy, movement disorders, and dementia.

The findings revealed that those who had been hospitalized due to COVID-19 were less likely to seek care for these neurologic conditions in the year following their infection compared to those hospitalized for influenza.

For example, only 2.0% of COVID-19 patients required care for migraines, as opposed to 3.2% of influenza patients.

Similarly, lower percentages of COVID-19 patients needed care for epilepsy, neuropathy, movement disorders, stroke, and dementia compared to their influenza counterparts.

After adjusting for various factors like age, sex, and pre-existing health conditions, the researchers determined that COVID-19 patients had significantly lower risks of requiring care for the aforementioned neurologic conditions than those with influenza.

Notably, the risk of seeking care for migraine was 35% lower, epilepsy 22% lower, neuropathy 44% lower, movement disorders 36% lower, stroke 10% lower, and dementia 7% lower for those with COVID-19.

Additionally, when looking at individuals without prior diagnoses of these conditions, the study found that only 2.8% of those with COVID-19 developed a new neurologic condition within a year, compared to 4.9% of influenza patients.

These findings suggest that, despite the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, it does not lead to a higher demand for neurologic care compared to influenza, providing some reassurance regarding the management of neurologic conditions post-COVID-19.

The study, however, has its limitations, including the use of a data platform that is not nationally representative, which means these results may not apply to all COVID-19 survivors in the United States.

Nonetheless, this research contributes valuable insights into the comparative effects of COVID-19 and influenza on neurologic health.

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The research findings can be found in Neurology.

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