In a surprising development, government-backed medical researchers in Australia are calling for the term "long COVID" to be abandoned, arguing that it creates unnecessary fear and may hinder patient recovery. The newly-released study from Queensland Health suggests that symptoms experienced by those reportedly suffering a year after contracting COVID-19 were not significantly different from those associated with typical viruses, such as the flu.

Dr. John Gerrard, Queensland's Chief Health Officer, who oversaw the study, stated, "We believe it is time to stop using terms like 'Long COVID'. They wrongly imply there is something unique and exceptional about longer term symptoms associated with this virus. This terminology can cause unnecessary fear, and in some cases, hyper-vigilance to longer symptoms that can impede recovery."

The study surveyed 5,112 symptom sufferers aged 18 years and older, focusing on individuals who had taken COVID-19 tests-both positive and negative-in late spring of 2022. Participants were questioned a year later about their symptoms and quality of life. Reported symptoms included fatigue, brain fog, cough, shortness of breath, changes to smell and taste, dizziness, and rapid or irregular heartbeat.

Researchers found that 16 percent of respondents were experiencing symptoms in spring of 2023, while 3.6 percent reported "moderate-to-severe functional impairment" in their daily lives. However, no evidence was found to suggest that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 in 2022 were experiencing this increased level of impairment at a higher rate than those who tested negative or those who simply had the flu.

The study noted that rates of diagnosed "Long COVID" were lower in Australia compared to other countries, likely due to the strict restrictions imposed by the Australian government during the pandemic. The finished document is set to be presented next month at the 2024 European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Barcelona.

Dr. Gerrard explained, "In health systems with highly vaccinated populations, long COVID may have appeared to be a distinct and severe illness because of high volumes of COVID-19 cases during the pandemic. However, we found that the rates of ongoing symptoms and functional impairment are indistinguishable from other post-viral illnesses."

The findings have sparked a debate among medical professionals, with some expressing concern over the potential impact of the "long COVID" label on patients' mental well-being and recovery. A&E consultant Dr. Rob Galloway, who was not involved in the study, previously voiced his frustration with the number of patients labeled with the condition, often without convincing reasons beyond a collection of ongoing symptoms.

"The implications of this label can be significant, impacting on their mental wellbeing. Many of those I've been involved with treating seem defeated by the assumption that they are unlikely to get better," Dr. Galloway wrote in the Mail. "But also because it means that clinicians may not look for other causes of their symptoms."

Dr. Janet Scott, Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at the University of Glasgow, who was also not involved in the study, acknowledged that many infections cause post-infection syndromes and that "'long COVID' is indeed not markedly different from other post-respiratory virus syndromes." However, she emphasized the importance of not minimizing the huge personal and economic impact that long COVID has on individuals.

"The big difference with long COVID is the sheer number of people infected with the same virus in a short space of time - which has facilitated more coordinated research in the area - which I hope will benefit all sufferers of post-infection syndromes," Dr. Scott added.

As the debate surrounding the validity and implications of the "long COVID" term continues, the Queensland Health study underscores the need for further research into post-viral syndromes and the importance of comparing post-COVID-19 outcomes with those following other respiratory infections. The findings may prompt a reevaluation of how healthcare professionals approach and communicate about long-term symptoms associated with viral illnesses, including COVID-19.

NY Post and Daily Mail contributed to this report.