Sick for more than a week? You may have a co-infection

Sick for more than a week? You may have a co-infection
Sick for more than a week? You may have a co-infection
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Colds, a respiratory virus, flu, stomach complaints, throat infections: in the autumn and spring it is almost amazing if you can get away with it and not get sick. If you have been sick a lot lately or are suffering from severe or long-lasting symptoms, you may be wondering: is this just a really nasty flu? But did you know that you can also contract a co-infection?

What is a co-infection?

A co-infection is when someone is affected by two or more different pathogens at the same time, such as viruses, bacteria or parasites. Double bad luck! This can complicate diagnosis and treatment because the symptoms can overlap or influence each other. Co-infections are quite common and can vary in severity. This of course depends on the pathogens involved and the health status of the person in question.

What diseases can co-infections cause?

Co-infections can be caused by a wide range of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi. Some examples of diseases that can cause co-infections are:

Respiratory infections

With diseases such as influenza, COVID-19 and RSV, co-infections in the respiratory tract can occur. This includes other viruses such as adenovirus and rhinovirus, as well as bacterial pneumonias such as those caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

Sexually transmitted infections (STDs): Co-infections can occur with STDs such as HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Gastrointestinal infections

Examples of co-infections in the gastrointestinal tract are infections with Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, norovirus, giardiasis and amebiasis.

Vector-borne diseases

Diseases transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes or fleas can also cause co-infections. This includes Lyme disease, malaria and mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

Immunodeficiency diseases

People with HIV/AIDS, for example, have a weakened immune system and are therefore more at risk of co-infections with various germs.

Nosocomial infections

Nosocomial infections can also cause co-infections, such as a combination of bacterial and fungal infections in immunocompromised patients.

How can you recognize a co-infection?

A co-infection can be recognized by various signs and symptoms. Of course, this also depends on the pathogens involved and the specific combination of infections. However, we have listed a few recognizable symptoms of a co-infection:

  • Presence of multiple symptoms – If you experience a wide range of symptoms that are not typical of one specific disease, this may indicate a co-infection. For example, coughing and shortness of breath in combination with nausea and diarrhea. This can hardly be one infection or virus.
  • Persistent or recurring complaints – If you have symptoms that persist or recur, this may suggest that more than one pathogen is present. For example, if you have been taking antibiotics but the symptoms do not improve or come back too quickly, this may indicate a co-infection with another pathogen.
  • Unexpected complications – If you experience unexpected problems during an infection, it could mean that you may have multiple infections at the same time. For example, if you have the flu and then suddenly become very ill with pneumonia, this could mean that you are also infected with a bacteria.

It is not always noticeable

To be fair, it is often difficult to recognize a co-infection because the symptoms can overlap. For example, coughing, fever, and sore throat can all occur with respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, RSV, and influenza. The only way to be sure which infection(s) you have is to have a test done. So it is important to be examined by a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. This is only necessary if the complaints are serious or last (too) long.

What are the risks of a co-infection?

Co-infections can make your illness more severe and delay your recovery because your body has to fight multiple infections at the same time. It can also be difficult to find the right treatment, which can lead to more complications. People with weak immune systems are especially at risk for serious health problems from co-infections. It is therefore important to take co-infections seriously and seek medical help in time.

What can you do to prevent a co-infection?

To prevent co-infections, it is important to follow good hygiene habits, such as washing your hands regularly with soap and water. Keep it clean! It is also wise to protect yourself during sexual activity by using condoms, as this significantly reduces the risk of contracting STDs.

Furthermore, it is advisable to follow healthy eating habits and get regular exercise to strengthen your immune system. The stronger your immune system, the less susceptible you are to infections and viruses. Of course, it is always wise to avoid contact with people who are sick as much as possible. Also think carefully about the recommended vaccinations, because they are recommended for a reason and can help reduce the risk of co-infections.

Finally, it is important to seek medical attention if you experience severe symptoms of an (co-)infection in order to receive a quick diagnosis and treatment. Even if the complaints persist for more than a week, it is wise to call your doctor. You should also go to the doctor immediately if you have these (harmless) symptoms.

Sources: NIH, HuffPost, ScienceDirect

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The article is in Dutch

Tags: Sick week coinfection

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