My experience with long Covid – Veronica Wangui opens up

Sunday, October 31st, 2021 00:00 |
Veronica Wangui is yet to recover her sense of smell and taste months after recovering from Covid-19. Photo/PD/MILLIAM MURIGI

When Veronica Wangui suddenly lost her senses of smell and taste on July 15, 2021, she definitely knew those were early signs of Covid-19.

She started medication immediately with high hopes of getting her senses back once she was well.

However, after two weeks, the duration that mild or moderate Covid-19 lasts for most people she hadn’t recovered yet.

“It all began on July 15, when I woke up with flu. Since my husband had the flu, I never thought it was something serious. I took medication for the common flu and proceeded to my workplace.

Later that evening, as I sat down for supper with my family, I realised I couldn’t smell the food.

Though I could still taste it, the flavours were muted. This didn’t ring an alarm at all,” she starts.

In the days that followed, she developed fever and a deep, dry cough that matched everything she had read and heard about Covid-19.

Faced with the illness and the fear she had for the family, the fact that she couldn’t smell was the least of her concerns. However, after a few days, she had lost her sense of taste completely.

This was a big blow to her because she couldn’t taste the food before serving her family.

Unfortunately, her husband also lost the two senses. Consequently, they had to rely on their last-born daughter for tasting and smell.

“It was so bad that I couldn’t notice when food was burning. It was a major struggle for the first few days.

Dr Igor Koralnik, MD, Chief of NeuroInfectious Diseases and Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine. Photo/Courtesy

Most time, I would put excess salt in the food. When I later realised I had lost the two senses I used to go to the kitchen with my daughter. She turned to be my nose and tongue.”

After taking the medication and getting well, she assumed the senses would gradually return, but she started to get concerned when days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months.

Until now she hasn’t regained her senses completely thus becoming a victim of long Covid.

Long Covid is a term used to describe the effects of Covid-19 that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness. 

The World Health Organisation defines long Covid as a post-Covid-19 condition that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed infection, usually three months from the onset of the disease with symptoms and that lasts for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

Unidentified risks 

According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), symptoms include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain or tightness, problems with memory and concentration (brain fog), changes to taste and smell, and joint pain.

Though Veronica has fully recovered from the disease, lingering health problems continue to wreak havoc months later.

She has even started to wonder what life might be like if her senses don’t come back completely. 

“It’s been three months since I lost my sense of smell and taste, but there are signs that these senses are slowly returning.

Just the other day I could smell some eggs as I was frying for the first time in months. Recently I could also sense the taste of bread,” says Veronica.

Dr Igor Koralnik, MD, Chief of NeuroInfectious Diseases and Global Neurology at Northwestern Medicine, says it is estimated that 30 per cent of infected people end up having long Covid, and out of this 70 per cent are women, especially among non-hospitalised patients.

However, despite long Covid being a health crisis, the risks of getting it are not identified yet.

According to NHS, the chances of having long-term symptoms do not seem to be linked to how ill one is when they first get the disease. Even people with mild symptoms at first can still have long-term problems.

And are there ways it can be treated?

 Igor says that as of now no treatment has been discovered but symptomatic management of some of the symptoms (headache, fatigue, pain, cognition) is recommended.

However, his lab is in active research to find better ways to manage and treat affected patients.

“Evidence shows at least one-third of people who have Covid-19 experience neurological complications.

We are providing patients care for those with side effects whether they were diagnosed with the virus or experienced its symptoms.

We are also studying the long-term effects that Covid-19 has on the brain, nervous system, and muscles,” says Igor.

He says they are launching studies that will help influence the care of people with neurological complications of Covid-19 in the future.

He reveals that apart from the loss of smell and taste, the disease is affecting people in different ways. 

It can also lead to stroke, which can damage the brain. Other patients may develop an autoimmune disorder, in which their immune system begins to attack healthy cells. Some have even developed seizure disorders.

“There are so many things that need to be treated and studied so we can continue to help patients have the best outcomes.

As new treatments emerge, it is very important to understand the cause of the patient’s symptoms,” he said.

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