Recovering From Covid-19 – What You Can Expect
Covid-19 has proven to be quite a puzzling disease, considering that it affects people so differently. Some who contract it may only experience mild symptoms, others are hospitalised, and some are the asymptomatic carriers of infection.
Ninety five percent of South Africans who contract SARS Cov19 Virus will recover. As of 1st April 2021, our recovery number stands at 1,474,319. These statistics are promising and whilst we wait for further developments regarding the vaccine roll out, there is optimism that the Covid-19 recovery rate will continue to improve. That said, it is important to remain cautious and monitor your health. All myths aside, you can get infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus more than once and some patients have reported lingering symptoms even after recovery.
If I have been infected with the virus, what happens in my body?
Once the virus enters the body, it will start to multiply. Because it needs a host cell to replicate, the virus attaches itself to a healthy cell. The virus uses the DNA of the host cell to replicate, and is then released out of that host cell, destroying it in the process. The new viruses then continue to invade other host cells. However, the immune system immediately begins to work by identifying that viruses have entered the body and begins to engulf off these invading viruses by developing antibodies. The symptoms and the feelings of illness are caused by the immune system being overstimulated to rid the body of the virus.
Common symptoms include:
- A dry cough
- High temperature or fever
- Feeling fatigue
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
- Swollen glands
- Loss of taste or smell
- Abdominal cramps and sometimes diarrhoea
- Skin rashes
Can Covid-19 infection be confused for being flu or common cold symptoms?
Covid-19 and Influenza do have some shared symptoms. And yes, both are essentially respiratory diseases that are spread in similar ways, but people should not dismiss Covid-19 and compare it to a flu. Currently, people are still in the process of building immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Once enough people have been infected by the disease, and are vaccinated, will we start to see a more immune resistant population and fewer severities. Compared to more developed countries, South Africa has experienced a much slower vaccination roll out. We need to remain alert and continue to wear masks, keep safe distance, and wash/sanitise our hands frequently.
Further to this, people with underlying medical conditions may be more seriously affected by a SARS-CoV-2 virus infection.
Examples of comorbidities would be:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Diabetes (Mellitus)
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Renal (Kidney) disease
- A compromised immune system (such as from cancer treatments or untreated HIV)
- Poor diet lacking in nutrition
- Frequent recreational drug users
- Covid-19 has also been known to cause blood clotting in some patients, which can lead to a stroke or a heart attack.
What does the recovery process look like?
The length of your recovery process typically depends on the severity of your symptoms and whether you have underlying medical conditions or not. Always remain in contact with your health professional to guide and advise you.
- Mild cases: It usually takes between one week to 10 days to recover from mild symptoms. During this period isolate at home and make sure to rest well, drink enough fluids and supplement your vitamin intake.
- Moderate cases: People tend to experience more serious symptoms and might have to be admitted to hospital. In this case recovery can take several weeks and you could experience recurring symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and coughing.
- Severe cases: If you have been in the ICU and perhaps on a ventilator your recovery process will be much longer. It can take months for your body to return to its normal health, particularly if your lungs were badly damaged.
What are the long-term effects of Covid-19?
As we uncover more data about Covid-19, it is becoming evident that long-term side effects are experienced not only in severe cases but also in patients that showed mild symptoms. Lingering effects may range from extreme fatigue and muscle pain, chest pain, shortness of breath, problems with concentration and sleeping, not fully regaining the ability to smell and taste fully. People of all ages have been experiencing these symptoms, which can last for months after initially becoming infected.
Reports of organ damage after moderate to severe Covid-19 can be critical long-term consequences. These include:
- Damage to the heart leading to heart problems and the risk of heart failure. Blood clots causing heart attacks and strokes are also possible.
- Permanent lung damage, developing pneumonia and long-term breathing difficulty may result.
- Injury to the brain, possibility of strokes and seizures, and perhaps risk of developing Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease are possible.
Additionally, Covid-19 disease is seriously affecting people’s mood and general sense of psychological wellbeing. People are experiencing depression and anxiety even after recovering from the disease, post-traumatic stress syndrome may also arise.
When should I consult a doctor?
If you are recovering from Covid-19 and experience persistent symptoms (though mild) it is always a good idea to consult your doctor. A doctor may advise you on how to further monitor symptoms, along with assessing how severe the aftereffects may be. In extreme cases, such as organ damage, you will need specialist medical assistance. This will require conducting further tests, possible hospitalisation, and intensive rehabilitation processes with therapists.
Experiencing psychological side effects during recovery, should also be taken seriously. Consult a clinical psychologist that will be able to give insight regarding sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. Professional medical support is always advised when you notice long-term side effects during recovery.
Prevention is always better than cure, so be wise and sanitise
Recovering from Covid-19 is possible; however, prevention remains a priority. This includes frequent hand washing and/or using a hand sanitiser, maintaining a 2-metre distance from other people, always wearing a face mask in public, avoiding crowded places and public gatherings, and self-isolate if you expect that you have been re-infected.
Outbreaks such as the Bubonic Plague, the Spanish Flu and HIV/AIDS, have threatened humankind’s existence. But scientific inventivity and the ability of humanity to unite for a common good cause, has been the reason we triumph over disease and pestilence. Be sensible, protect your family, stay safe and keep your head up.
For more information please contact:
Dr RS Mistry, Physician
FCP SA (1996), MB BCh WITWATERSRAND (1989)
Ahmed Kathrada Private Hospital
Telephone: +27 11 854 1489
Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.