Cape Town - Many people who have recovered from Covid-19 experience symptoms that typically last for around two weeks, but for some, the road to recovery may be a lingering and drawn-out battle.
“Long Covid” is a condition where people infected with the virus continue to experience symptoms for longer than usual and do not fully recover for several weeks or months after the start of their symptoms.
Those with long Covid are often referred to as “long haulers” where a person experiences symptoms for more than 28 days after diagnosis, whether laboratory confirmed or clinical.
Specialist pulmonologist at Groote Schuur Hospital Dr Rubeshan Perumal says there are no known methods of reducing the risk of long-Covid, other than to avoid getting the virus itself, which includes social distancing, hand hygiene, mask-wearing, and vaccination.
Perumal says that in his observations from the hospital’s post-Covid-19 lung disease clinic, he has seen patients with the full spectrum of persistent respiratory complaints.
“The majority of patients seem to enjoy relief from these symptoms with supportive measures alone, and most importantly, with the passage of time.
“A minority of patients, especially those who experience severe Covid-19 pneumonia, may be left with permanent lung damage or residual lung inflammation requiring ongoing medical care,” he said.
The most common long Covid symptom appears to be fatigue or post-viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS), said Perumal. Cognitive slowing and memory impairment (often described as mental fog), has also been a common symptom.
A long-hauler from Merebank in KwaZulu-Natal, Jane Pillay, says she has been battling the virus for over two months since she experienced her first symptoms.
On Tuesday last week the 56-year-old mother of two was admitted to hospital for the second time for post-Covid pneumonia. She first spent two weeks in hospital during December.
“It’s been over 60 days since I first got sick and it feels like Covid is just entering my body again. The scans showed severe inflammation and early fibrosis,” she said.
Since her hospital readmission, she has since been put onto an aggressive treatment of steroids, insulin, antibiotics, cough syrups, and pain medication.
“I am glad that the cough has subsided a lot, however the damage done will take a while to heal. Lots of patience is needed. I have been losing my hair, struggling with fatigue and experienced an overall sense of weakness,” she said.
Pillay, who works as a CSI trust fund manager, says she contracted the virus on December 18, 2020 and her first symptom was fatigue.
“I didn’t think much of it, but by the 20th, I was really out of it with fever, sore throat and body pains. As the days went by, more symptoms came on, the worse by far was the painful dry cough which felt like my lungs were going to explode,” she said.
On Christmas Eve, Pillay tested positive for the virus. Immediately she started taking medication such as cough syrups, panados, vitamins, and home made remedies such as ginger shots.
“I was getting worse, nothing helped including steaming and eating raw ginger. At 1am on December 30, I was admitted to hospital.”
While people have different reactions and symptoms to the virus, Pillay says there is no way of telling how it could affect you and how dangerous it could be to your body.
While in recovery, Pillay took vitamins C,D, E and zinc. To treat her dry cough she took cough mixture.
Fifty-year-old Covid-19 survivor from Gqeberha, Gavin Biggs, said he battled with symptoms for over four months and his recovery was slow.
“I can confirm 100% that there is a long sting in the tail when it comes to Covid. Nine weeks after I left the hospital, I used a walking stick because I had no strength, no energy and my heart rate was very high for a long period of time,” he said.
He started experiencing aching joints and severe headaches on June 3, 2020 and was admitted the following week to Netcare Greenacres Hospital.
Shortly after diagnosis, Biggs says, he was constantly out of breath. “I couldn’t string five words together without trying to get some breath. It was one of the biggest signs that there was something wrong with me.”
Doctors predicted that he would only make a full recovery in December, but Biggs was motivated to get his health and fitness back on track.
“The whole experience really bothered me mentally, physically and emotionally. To try get my mental strength back, I started setting goals for myself. I started getting my health back around October and I’ve been trying to get my fitness up,” he said.
Psychiatric medical officer in Cape Town Dr Tevin Naidu says that around 10% of people infected with the virus will go on to develop long Covid.
Naidu says those battling the virus can optimise the treatment of significant coexisting chronic conditions – such as diabetes, hypertension, and psychiatric conditions – to ensure that they are not contributing factors.
● For those who are experiencing loss of smell, most people get their sense of smell back with time. If the symptom is persistent, people can conduct their own olfactory training by repeatedly sniffing a set of odorants.
● Breathing control exercises are recommended if a person has a chronic cough and shortness of breath.
● Goal setting and careful pacing can assist with the fatigue. Those in recovery should start with low-intensity activities and increase gradually.
● Stress reduction is vital. Seek professional help if you are experiencing mental health issues that cannot be managed at home.
● Maintain a healthy, balanced diet, ensure good sleeping habits and stress reduction practices, and exercise regularly.