It's Not COVID, But an Especially Intense Cold Is Going Around

People who don't have COVID-19 are reporting more severe upper respiratory illnesses than they usually experience, and doctors say several factors could be at play

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If you have been down for the count lately, you are not alone. Doctors in Massachusetts are seeing a huge increase in patients who are coming in with sore throats and coughs that just will not go away, even though they do not have COVID-19.

"It was just an awful experience. I was constantly coughing and sneezing and my throat felt like it was swollen. It just felt so much worse than usual," said Thomas Langille, who just recovered.



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The severity of the upper respiratory illnesses has many wondering if the common cold has become stronger or if the lockdown made people's immune systems weaker.

"It's crazy, everyone is sick, and people are very sick, much sicker than we usually see with just a plain old cold," Dr. Kate Atkinson said.

Dr. Atkinson is a family physician in Amherst and a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. She said the sick visits have been nonstop since Thanksgiving.

With children back in school and more people doing activities inside during the winter, she is not surprised to see an uptick, but she does have a few theories why it feels especially bad this year.

"One is that they didn't catch anything last year, and their system is saying, 'What the heck is this?' and the other is that there are just so many things going around," Atkinson said.

Experts say the common cold is probably not more potent, but COVID has heightened health-related anxiety.

"We've become a lot less tolerant of the symptoms because of the concern that it might be COVID. Many people also can't come back to work until they are symptom free, so that is making them more aware," said Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, the chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

After two trips and three hours, Zoe Carter finally got seen at an urgent care facility in Brookline Tuesday. She has been sick for three weeks and she hopes whatever it is, she gets over it soon.

"It's frustrating, but everyone else is kind of in the same boat, so it makes it a little better," Carter said.

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