When the Covid-19 pandemic eventually recedes, scientists and health officials worry that it will leave in its wake a wave of patients suffering from lingering health problems, even after recovering from the acute phase of their infection.
Known as long Covid, or “post-Covid syndrome”, the condition is gaining growing recognition worldwide. People living with the condition no longer have the live SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, in their body, as explained by doctors from Johns Hopkins Medicine. This means that they would test negative for the virus, but still experience debilitating symptoms.
Thousands of people, including adolescents and children, worldwide are suffering from the lingering effects of Covid-19 – from anxiety and struggling to breathe to coping with loss of smell or taste. Health24 spoke to six people battling crushing fatigue, memory loss and other post-Covid symptoms.
‘I feel like I am on a long road to recovery’
Coping after Covid is very hard because you still feel very sick, especially with the shortness of breath. I also never had anxiety attacks before – they started only after having Covid which was caused by the realisation that I couldn’t breathe.
‘I survived the illness, but the life I knew was snatched away from me’
I’m a high school teacher, and the first week after I returned to school I felt dizzy and like my chest was on fire. No amount of water or lozenges eased this pain. I thought that once I got back into my normal routine it would be easier. But I was terribly wrong.
‘Eight months after being on a ventilator, I'm still not okay’
There were days where the doctor would call my family and tell them that they didn’t think I was going to make it because my vitals were going down. But through God’s grace, I managed to pull through and came off the ventilator on 31 December 2020.
Brain fog, hair loss, breathing issues – ‘You feel you’re going crazy’
Thousands of people worldwide are suffering from the lingering effects of Covid-19 – from severe fatigue and struggling to breathe to coping with memory or hair loss. Health24 spoke to a number of long haulers. This is Rochelle's story.
'On my worst days, it feels like I’m stuck in a prison'
"On my worst days, it feels like I’m stuck in a prison; like I’m in a cage not knowing what to do," says Kathryn, a Covid long hauler.
'I was a healthy teenager – I hope that I will be able to lead a normal life again'
Before infection, I was a very healthy, very active teenager. I took part in a multitude of extracurricular activities and got through my days without feeling exhausted. Now, I find that I have to be particularly careful about my level of exertion during the day, as I’ll need a few days of recovery if I push myself too hard or beyond what my body can handle, says Lydia.
'My memory has never been this bad'
Most of the time I’m just at home. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’d talk to my sister on the phone and then in the middle of a conversation I'd forget what we were talking about. I wouldn't remember what I wanted to say. We all have memory lapses as we get older, but mine has definitely got worse after Covid, says Nurjehan, 69.
'Before I had Covid, I walked 10 km every day – now I can barely manage 3 km'
Sherri-Lee, 41, says she can't get through a day without having to sleep (during the day) because the fatigue is so bad.
'It’s like I need more sleep than I’ve ever needed before'
The doctors don’t have all the answers. They tell you: "This is new for us, so it’s trial and error." Doctors told me that after 14 days I could resume work, but I couldn’t do my normal work. I was down to maybe 30 to 40% of my normal workload.
‘The brain fog and memory loss has induced a lot of anxiety’
Kristin, 29, has been struggling with brain fog and bad short-term memory loss. This has induced a lot of anxiety because there are days where she can’t focus or think clearly.
'The psychological effects have been much more trying'
Anjumara, 52, has been battling with short-term memory loss, mental confusion, severe hair loss, spells of exhaustion and shortness of breath on exertion since her Covid infection. While the hair loss has not affected her lifestyle dramatically, she is concerned about the memory loss.
Living with long Covid: An expert tells us more about the research being done in South Africa
Experts worldwide have been making strides in long Covid research, but there are still many unanswered questions.
Prof Resa Pretorius, along with her colleagues, is currently conducting long Covid research in SA. She talked to Health24 about the progress she and her colleagues have made, and the questions that remain.
Many people suffer from the long-term effects of Covid-19, even many months later. If you are one of those people, and wish to share your experience, let us know, and your story can be told in our Living with long Covid series. You are not alone. E-mail your stories to email@example.com