While the growth in new COVID-19 cases British Columbia continues to accelerate, the death toll has, mercifully, wound down to a trickle.
But what happens to the survivors? Many people recover completely, but there’s another group — known as COVID-19 “long-haulers” that are living with chronic symptoms months after tests reveal they’re virus-free.
A U.S. Facebook support group for such survivors now numbers more than 100,000 people, while a similar group in Canada has attracted nearly 3,300.
Audrey Vanderhoek, a 55-year-old Chilliwack registered nurse and mother of four, is one such Canadian living with post-COVID complications.
“I’m probably at 50 per cent of my capacity to handle daily activities, stress,” Venderhoek told Global News, Sunday. “I don’t think I would be able to handle the demands of my work without keeling over.”
Vanderhoek, who describes herself as an athlete, was confirmed positive with the virus on May 1.
Her early symptoms included a sore throat, body aches and sniffles — but those escalated to exhaustion, intense headaches and trouble breathing.
“When I was diagnosed I thought, ‘If this is all it is, I’m physically fit, this is going to be great, I’m going to breeze through it,'” she said.
“But from that day forward the symptoms got progressively worse and every day was unpredictable as to what I was going to discover.”
While she was never hospitalized, she was bedridden for the better part of a month, finally testing negative for the virus at the end of May.
“I’ve progressed very, very slowly,” she said. “It’s been a whole new learning what my body can and cannot do.”
For the first three months after she tested negative, Vanderhoek says her throat would close up so that she “felt like suffocating” if she was exposed to bright sunlight or ate the wrong foods.
Intense chest pains continued until about mid-August.
Headaches, ear pain, sore throat and dizziness, she says, still come and go.
“The brain fog and brain fatigue was startling. I would forget words, I would do strange things, I would wander through the house I couldn’t remember where I was going, what I was doing.”
The U.S. national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Britain’s Department of Health are running their own clinical studies on the long term effects of the virus.
A recent CDC study found about a third of people who got COVID-19 but weren’t sick enough to be hospitalized still aren’t feeling back to normal weeks after testing negative for the virus.
A recent survey of COVID-19 long-haulers conducted by “citizen scientists” in the U.S., Canada and U.K. called Patient Led Research for COVID-19 found a slew of common symptoms.
Among 62 lingering symptoms it chronicled, mild shortness of breath, mild tightness of chest, moderate fatigue, mild fatigue, chills or sweats, mild body aches, dry cough, elevated temperature, mild headache, and brain fog or concentration challenges were the most common.
Only about 20 per cent of respondents said they’d made a full recovery by day 50, and 65 per cent said they considered themselves mostly sedentary now.
Back in Chilliwack, Vanderhoek said her experience as a long-hauler has left her with a message for others.
“I think there’s a bit of a delusion that it’s not going to get you until it gets you. And then your world changes,” she said.
“I have a whole new appreciation for people with chronic illnesses … you know, the way the medical system isn’t able really to fully help them.”