‘It took me 65 days to recover from my third bout of COVID-19. Why am I getting the virus in every wave?’ asks survivor

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JANUARY 4, 2023

Thirty-year-old Tanu Dogra dreads getting another round of COVID-19 as she has had it three times already, during every wave, and has been left with battling a leftover symptom and a much compromised body that has meant making adjustments in her work life. “I don’t have it in me to take it anymore,” says Dogra, who has had cumulative weight loss (she weighed 75 kg and can rarely go above 60 kg over the last two years) episodes of brain freeze and forgetfulness, has 70 per cent taste and smell functions and crumbles in a heap after a moderate day at work. Twenty eight-year-old Srishti Sharma, who has also battled three rounds of the virus, dreads every seasonal change as she invariably gets fever, which shoots up to 103 degrees, a persistent cough that never goes away before a month and has patchy sleep. What makes their story different is that they didn’t come back from the brink or had to be hospitalized that could easily explain their long Covid effects. Their infection seemed symptomatically milder but had done an equal damage and left them with no immunity shield.

As Dr. Nikhil Modi, Consultant, Pulmonology and Respiratory Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, says, “There is no concrete finding yet as to why certain people get recurrent infections but the genetic make-up of each individual is different as is their immunity. Some develop long-standing antibodies that can counter the virus, some do not. And as the coronavirus mutates rapidly, the changed strain may not be covered by antibodies already formed in the body. That, however, doesn’t mean that such people cannot control the infection once they get it. Recurrent COVID 19 infection is a new clinical entity and is rarely diagnosed. Research has shown it can occur due to reactivation of primary infection or reinfection by SARS-CoV-2 in patients who fail to develop antibodies against primary infection.”

Also, studies on long COVID are ongoing and there is still no concrete finding if recurrent infections are part of long COVID. “What we do know is that long COVID lasts up to a year. And we are seeing COVID survivors become susceptible to other viruses as well, causing them to fall sick frequently.”

Dogra, a publicist in the publishing industry had three bouts of Covid, during Delta (March-end 2021), Omicron (January 2022) and then Omicron which turned to a case of pneumonia onset in August-September 2022, the last being the least expected. “For context, I’m a primary caregiver for my father, who’s fighting an advanced case of pancreatic cancer and we frequent the hospital every week/fortnight. Therefore, we are more exposed to infections and Covid in general despite all precautions in place. Still, he got the infection once while I had it thrice. I was treated at home all three times and didn’t need oxygen. Except in the third episode, I had to be on nebulisation for a month,” says she.

Describing her symptoms, Dogra says, “My symptoms in episode 1 were classic delta — high fever, shortness of breath, loose motions, body pains, no olfactory sense for over 45 days but I had no cough. Symptoms in episode 2 were much better as Omicron wasn’t meant to be challenging and by now, we’d had two doses of the vaccine. I had fever and cold for a week with some body pain. Symptoms in episode 3 started off mild but by the second week, I really struggled to breathe. When I complained of wheezing even while breathing normally, I was asked to get an HRCT again, which showed pleural thickening on both lungs with upper lobe that had a focal dense area. This resulted in nebulisation with steaming (as I suffer from sinusitis too) and steroids. Long Covid is not a myth and the third tryst made me realize how unfit my body was. I couldn’t sustain another hit if it were a possibility in the future. I had cumulative weight loss, forgetfulness, episodes of brain freeze. I struggled with work and memory in general and as a primary care giver to my father, it took a toll on me. It took me 65 days to recover from my third bout. I’m much better now but my appetite remains to be grey, and other health concerns continue, especially the lack of/failure to build immunity.”

Doctors have never been able to give a satisfactory explanation for Dogra’s condition except that her immunity has been badly compromised. “I can no longer have three of my favorite foods, rice, coffee and potato, something I could gorge on every day. Now my belly churns thinking of them. My taste and smell come and go and are on good days about 70 per cent. My weight doesn’t go up at all beyond 62 and I definitely have lost the energy I had two years ago. My sinuses get activated at the smallest provocation,” says Dogra who has now opted for a hybrid routine for work . When she was laid up in bed during Delta, she had even coordinated COVID relief as an online volunteer.

Sharma got infected with COVID-19 for the first time in March 2021. “I kept on testing negative but my symptoms wouldn’t disappear. I tested positive only after 21 days. Post- recovery in the first phase, frequent headaches and acute weakness stayed with me for over a month. The cough was not gone either. When I got infected the second time in December 2021, my fever was mild but I experienced heavy coughing. Not only that, I suffered major hair loss and peeling of dry skin. Got infected the third time in August, 2022 with mild manifestations and tested negative in five days. But my coughing wouldn’t stop and lasted a month,” says Sharma, who works with a hospital. Well-informed, she has done a chest CT to rule out lung disorders whenever she has had non-stop coughing bouts. “But they didn’t show up anything alarming. So I now manage my cough with gargles and steaming, live with it,” says she.

Sharma, who has been fully vaccinated now, feels her immunity system has taken a permanent hit. “A very mild change in weather means I suffer from high fever, no less than 103 degrees with persistent coughing. I end up using my sick leaves this way. I certainly do not have the energy that I once had,” she adds. And after two years, life is still a limping struggle to get back to normal for these two young women.


Courtesy/Source: Indian Express