Super-Cold: What to Know About “the Worst Cold Ever”
If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms yet keep getting negative results from PCR or rapid antigen tests, you’re not alone. Colds with severe symptoms, which some refer to as “super colds”, seem to be on the rise this summer. More people are suffering from more severe cold and flu-like symptoms, more commonly than expected at this time of the year. Together with the rising influenza cases, these out-of-season variations have led to considerable debate among epidemiologists, virologists, and the public. Read along to find out more about super cold, how it differs from other respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, RSV, or influenza, and how you can protect yourself against getting ill.
What is a super cold?
Many people are reporting to suffer from a more severe cold or flu-like disease with symptoms resembling that of COVID-19. The most reported symptoms have been sore throats, headaches, coughing, fatigue, and runny noses. Back in late 2021, the UK Health Agency has reported a rise in 111 calls seeking help with lower and upper respiratory tract infections with cold-like symptoms, coughs, and difficulty breathing especially among patient aged between 15 and 44. Many people have also complained on social media of experiencing “the worst cold ever” despite repeatedly receiving negative antigen tests and PCR tests. However, Public Health England (PHE) has found no spike in confirmed flu-like symptoms in its assessment of the apparent “super cold”. While reports of the apparent “super cold” has risen occasionally since the removal of pandemic measures and restrictions, experts emphasize that these accounts are predominantly based on personal experiences, and that it is highly unlikely that there is a new virus or variant in circulation. Rather, they suggest that “super cold” is a version of the common cold, which is likely to be caused by a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
What is causing the super cold?
If “super cold” is simply a version of the common cold, how can the current rise in COVID-like symptoms, viral infections, and of-the-season fluctuations be explained? Experts link these variations to the recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the weakened public immunity due to measures introduced in response to the pandemic. Indeed, with the removal of lockdown measures and travel restrictions, people have just started to come into contact in a way that they had not been able to do for the last two years. As these measures are lifted, people have started to mix in all types of public spaces, which could result in significant upsurges in respiratory infections such as cold and influenza.
Moreover, studies suggest that pandemic measures such as travel restrictions, lockdowns, mask wearing, and public distancing have not only reduced the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, but also non-COVID respiratory viruses such as influenza and RSV. Indeed, many people may have gotten infected with these viruses for the first time in around two years. Accordingly, experts argue that the protection offered by our immune systems to viruses such as influenza and RSV has likely waned due to social distancing and other pandemic measures. Therefore, it is possible to experience more severe and prolonged disease than would be expected from a common cold.
How does super cold differ from influenza, COVID-19, and “Flurona”?
As mentioned above, the so-called “super cold” is a version of the common cold that might cause more severe and/or prolonged symptoms due to the weakening of our immunity throughout the pandemic. Although it is caused neither by SARS-CoV-2, or any of the influenza viruses, common cold may be difficult to distinguish from COVID-19 and influenza due to the largely overlapping symptoms of these infections. Likewise, the clinical presentation of co-infections with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza, which some refer to as “flurona”, highly resemble that of common cold, influenza, and COVID-19.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of common cold typically include sneezing, stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, coughing, post-nasal drip, watery eyes, and less commonly fever. On the other hand, common symptoms of influenza include coughs, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, myalgia, headaches, fatigue, fever, and less commonly vomiting and diarrhea. Although COVID-19 infections had been known to have some distinguishing symptoms, according to ZOE, which is the largest ongoing study on SARS-CoV-2, many symptoms of COVID-19 are now overlapping with those of the common cold particularly for those who have been fully vaccinated. Indeed, typical symptoms of common cold such as sore throat, runny nose, headache, and sneezing has increasingly been observed in those infected with SARS-CoV-2.
When should you get tested?
As it may not be possible to differentiate the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19 clinically, testing remains critical for the diagnosis of these infections. Alongside PCR tests, rapid antigen tests such as our RapidFor™ SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Antigen Test Kit, SARS-CoV-2 & FLU A/B Combo Antigen Test Kit, and Influenza A/B Rapid Test Kit, provide a quick, convenient, and accurate method for detection and differentiation of infections with SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses. Testing is especially crucial to rule out COVID-19. Indeed, in order to reduce transmission and ensure timely treatment, experts are urging people not to self-diagnose their symptoms, but to take a COVID-19 test if they experience common COVID-19 symptoms such as cough, high temperature or loss of taste and smell.
How can you protect yourself?
Further, experts emphasize the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for the prevention of severe disease and death. Staying up to date with the offered vaccinations and booster shots has been proven to significantly reduce the risk of severe disease, and health officials are urging every eligible person to get completely vaccinated against the simultaneous circulation of influenza and COVID-19.
As for the management of common cold, most infections can be managed at home. Experts recommend staying hydrated, eating well, and getting plenty of rest. Over-the counter painkillers can also be used to relieve headaches, muscle aches, and pains. Following a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and following simple hygiene rules can also help keep your immune system strong against infections.