Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Constant sickness finally kicked

Aucklander’s immune-deficiency diagnosis came after years of visits to the doctor over her failing health.

For 10 years, Charlie Scott was constantly sick. Throughout her teenage years and early 20s, she had infections, fevers and flu. When her friends stayed out, she went home.

Last year, when she was 27, doctors figured out what was wrong - she barely had an immune system. The Auckland web content editor was diagnosed with Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID).

"As a teen, I spent way more time at the health nurse than my friends for things like strep throat and chest infections," Ms Scott said. "In university, I was sick a lot, and when I went to the United Kingdom for two years in 2012, things got really bad. I had chest infection after chest infection, and glandular fever.

"Last year, I had the same cough I'd had for about three or four years, chest infections, a skin infection, shingles, bronchitis, bronchiectasis, sinusitis and pneumonia - all while being quite active and eating well."

Antibiotics were prescribed constantly.

"Each time I went to the doctors I was prescribed medication for the thing I had at the time. I even said to a doctor that I was worried about my immune system because I always seemed to be sick with three things at once but he said, 'Some people just get sick a lot'."

In July last year, a doctor referred Ms Scott to an allergy expert, who sent her for blood tests and then on to an immunologist.

She had her first three-hour transfusion of antibodies (from human plasma) at Auckland City Hospital in August. She can either have the treatment at hospital every month for the rest of her life, or in the midterm, or she may be able to have a similar weekly treatment at home.

"It was hard coming to terms with the diagnosis. It was a relief there was a term for what I had and I wasn't just a hypochondriac or unlucky, but it was really intimidating hearing I'd have to go to the hospital for the rest of my life."

After each transfusion, her reaction times are slow, she feels hyperaroused by her surroundings, a bit dizzy and emotional. "I normally need to sleep for a few hours and then take things steady. It takes about 24 hours to feel back to normal."

Although she doesn't get as ill as she once did, the 28-year-old needs to watch her health. She is unable to travel to some countries because of the risk of contracting infection if she took the required vaccines.

"I'm still the girl who coughs a lot but I'm no longer the girl who's always sick. It's exciting to be able to go out and keep up with friends, not living my life expecting to get sick or being limited in what I do."

Janet Simons, general manager of the Immune Deficiencies Foundation, said Ms Scott's condition was often left undiagnosed as the symptoms were not clear-cut and could be missed by a general physician.

"Most patients are diagnosed as adults once referred to an immunology specialist. Unfortunately, many of our patient members have had a long frustrating journey reaching a medical diagnosis. Once diagnosed, with appropriate treatment their quality of life increases significantly."

Battling the body's invaders

• The immune system is the body's defence against infections and other invaders.

• Blood tests revealed Charlie Scott has very low levels of antibodies, which the immune system uses to identify viruses and bacteria.

• Primary immune deficiency week starts today, advocating testing, early diagnosis and optimal treatment for people.

• The group, which supports New Zealanders with immune deficiency, has 100 members with Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID). The disorder is often hard to diagnose.

- NZ Herald

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