An influenza infection is more likely to increase the risk of having neurological disorders in the next year versus COVID-19, a recent study revealed.

In an American Academy of Neurology-funded study, researchers evaluated people who were hospitalized with either influenza or COVID-19 and found that those infected with flu were more likely to need hospital care in the following year for common neurologic conditions than people who had the SARS-CoV2 infection. However, the study did not look specifically at outcomes associated with long COVID.

The study included 77,272 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 and an equal number hospitalized with influenza. Researchers then examined how many of these individuals sought medical attention within the next year for six common neurological disorders: migraine, epilepsy, stroke, neuropathy, movement disorders, and dementia.

In general, people who had a COVID-19 infection were found to have fewer cases of common neurologic conditions in comparison to those with influenza infection. These are the comparative results:

  • Migraine: 2.0% of COVID patients vs. 3.2% of influenza patients
  • Epilepsy: 1.6% of COVID patients vs. 2.1% of influenza patients
  • Neuropathy: 1.9% of COVID patients vs. 3.6% of influenza patients
  • Movement disorders: 1.5% of COVID patients vs. 2.5% of influenza patients
  • Stroke: 2.0% of COVID patients vs. 2.4% of influenza patients
  • Dementia: 2.0% of COVID patients vs. 2.3% of influenza patients

After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, and other health conditions, having a COVID infection was linked to a 35% lower risk of receiving care for migraine, a 22% lower risk of receiving care for epilepsy, and a 44% lower risk of receiving care for neuropathy when compared to the flu. Additionally, those who had COVID had a 36% reduced risk of seeking care for movement disorders, a 10% lower risk for stroke, and a 7% lower risk for dementia.

"Since COVID-19 has now infected the majority of adults in the US, it's good news that it behaves similarly to other respiratory viruses with respect to these common neurologic conditions. There was concern that the already limited access to neurologic care would further shrink if we had a dramatic increase in neurologic care after COVID-19 infection," said study author, Dr. Adam de Havenon from the Yale University in New Haven in a news release.

The limitation of the study is that the results may not be generalizable as it has not used a nationally representative sample.

"While the results were not what we expected to find, they are reassuring in that we found being hospitalized with COVID did not lead to more care for common neurological conditions when compared to being hospitalized with influenza," study co-author Dr. Brian Callaghan of the University of Michigan Health in Ann Arbor said.

"It's important to note that our study did not look at long COVID outcomes, and our results do not necessarily conflict with the findings in other research showing an increase in neurologic symptoms in people with long COVID," Dr. Callaghan added.