You’re young and fit. Covid is not going to affect you. Well, you’d be forgiven for thinking that – afterall most people dying from the disease are elderly, perhaps overweight, or have underlying health problems.
But right now, a surprising number of younger people are battling the long-term effects of the virus. Even if you get the illness mildly and avoid hospital, you can still be left with what is now recognised as ‘Long Covid’ or ‘Post-Covid Syndrome.’ There are thought to be around 300,00 ‘long-haulers’ living in the UK. And I am one of them.
My life before contracting Covid in March was very different to how it is now. I spent most of my spare time at the gym, doing weights classes, circuits classes, running and sprinting. And I loved it. My fitness was so good that an assessment by a personal trainer calculated my overall fitness level as being equal to someone 10-12 years my junior.
As a 51-year-old woman, I wasn’t that surprised; I look after myself, eat well and thrive on exercise. So it came as a huge shock when, a month after getting Covid, I was still in bed, barely able to move. My symptoms had started with a sore throat, followed swiftly by the most crippling fatigue, a temperature, persistent cough, chills, hoarse voice, hallucinations, brain fog, hair loss and skin drier than the Sahara desert.
However, I never for one minute thought that 10 months later, I would still be struggling with this evil virus. Today I am left with fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, unrelenting phlegm, anxiety and the frequent feeling that my lungs are on fire. Anything physical exhausts me. I no longer exercise. I am by no means alone in this Long Covid hell. I recently joined the Long Covid Support Group on Facebook, where thousands of us (including sufferers from all parts of Lancashire) are sharing our stories.
And what’s so alarming is how many members are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Some are personal trainers or university students – previously strapping young lads with a love of the gym who now flinch at the thought of lifting a tin of baked beans. There’s the teenage girl, formerly a keen horse rider, now confined to a wheelchair. And there are hundreds of former marathon runners.
Long Covid really is an unknown and its symptoms can vary between sufferers. But one very common thread is that it is a relapsing and remitting illness. Sufferers can think they’ve recovered after a run of a few good days or even weeks – then suddenly the symptoms return. At the least, it’s frustrating. At the worst, you wonder if this is for life.
Last week, the NHS updated its website, saying: “How long it takes to recover from coronavirus is different for everybody. Many people feel better in a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks. But for some, symptoms can last longer. The chances of having long-term symptoms does not seem to be linked to how ill you are when you first get coronavirus.
“People who had mild symptoms at first can still have long-term problems. These can be debilitating - even for young, fit people, or those who did not go to hospital when they had Covid-19 symptoms initially.”
The website lists common Long Covid symptoms as including fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, pins and needles, dizziness, diarrhoea, joint pain, rashes, insomnia, depression, brain fog, headache, tinnitus and chest pain/tightness.
However, some sufferers are reporting additional symptoms such as phantom smells, blurred vision, recurring nightmares, itchiness, loss of appetite, premature ageing, blue toes and extreme chills. There are those who struggle to perform everyday tasks like cooking a meal or getting dressed.
According to the Office of National Statistics last month, one in five people testing positive for Covid-19 exhibited symptoms for five weeks or more. And one in 10 had symptoms for three months or longer.
But it’s now clear that thousands of people are still suffering ten months on – and some are reporting more serious problems like heart issues and micro clots in the lungs and brain.
With numbers of long-haulers rising daily, the Government has earmarked 60 specialist sites throughout the country to help sufferers – with Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust, Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, and Bolton NHS Foundation Trust all on the list.
Long Covid is an issue that is no longer being ignored. And it is clearly not going away. It’s time to pay serious attention to wearing that mask – and considering that vaccine. Otherwise, many more of us will be in it for the ‘long haul.’
The author is a 51-year-old mother from Lancashire who has asked to remain anonymous for family reasons.