While it seems like cold viruses are hitting especially hard this autumn, with more severe and longer-lasting symptoms, doctors are saying that this is not necessarily the case.
For a few weeks now, GPs are incredibly busy as cold viruses strike again and many people suffer from a sore throat, cough or runny nose. But are there really more people with a cold than usual?
“There is especially more attention and alertness to cold symptoms,” Roel Van Giel of the Domus Medica GP Association told VRT. “People come to the GP more quickly when they are ill and also stay home from work more quickly.”
“This creates the false impression that more people have a cold than before the pandemic, while that is not really the case,” he added.
Figures from the Sciensano national health institute also show that there are currently no more acute respiratory infections than in other years.
“People also have a distorted picture because of last year,” said Van Giel. “There were far fewer respiratory tract infections than normal. The face masks, distance and hygiene measures made it much harder for viruses to get around.”
What is true, however, is that more people have cold symptoms at the moment, because there are also more coronavirus infections, with over 3,000 positive cases per day for the first time since May, he says.
Van Giel added that many people also have the feeling that they suffer more and longer from their colds this year, but that may not be true either.
“GPs continue to give the same advice for a common cold as they did before, and we see no increase in patients whose symptoms persist or worsen,” he said. “So the course of the illness does not seem to have changed in the face of Covid-19.”
It may be a possibility that people are experiencing their colds more intensely, as they stay home from work or school more quickly than they did before, giving them (and others) the impression that they are sicker than they used to be.
“Covid has also caused a little more concern about cold symptoms,” he said. “And that is not a bad thing, of course, because there is a chance that you are indeed infected with the coronavirus.”
On top of that, immunologist Joeri Aerts (VUB) explained that a year and a half of contact with fewer people, keeping your distance and disinfecting your hands do have an impact on our immunity.
“Our immune system must regularly come into contact with viruses and bacteria,” he told VRT. “For a year and a half, we have not been exposed to the viruses that we normally encounter every year. Our immune system is a bit less trained at the moment and then there is a chance that it will react a bit slower to an infection.”
“That way, you can become a bit sicker, and it can take a bit longer for you to recover,” Aerts said, who stressed that it is important not to overburden your immune system, but that it should not be underexposed to viruses and bacteria either.
“We see, for example, that allergies mainly occur in children who have been brought up too hygienically,” he added. “Their immune system is insufficiently trained and overreacts.”
According to several experts, it is also possible that the flu will strike harder this winter than in previous years, but that still remains to be seen, said Aerts.