A Bay of Plenty mother who could “barely walk” and spent up to 18 hours a day in bed while suffering from long Covid was hospitalised for seven weeks after her lungs “collapsed”.
It comes as an epidemiologist says long Covid is “very severe and disabling” for some people and it is worth minimising the number of times people catch Covid-19.
Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand recorded 88 Covid-19 cases in Bay of Plenty, 53 in the Lakes District and about 3900 nationally for the week ending October 29.
Just over 60 deaths in the two districts were related to Covid — 36 in Bay of Plenty and 26 in Lakes.
Long Covid symptoms
Long Covid is a condition where Covid-19 symptoms persist for more than 12 weeks after a person has been diagnosed. Lingering symptoms can include fatigue, shortness of breath and brain fog.
Irene Simmons, a mother of three living in Nukuhou, between Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki, said she caught Covid-19 in April and experienced fatigue and headaches for five months.
“I couldn’t get off the bed - I was [spending] 16 to 18 hours in bed. I can barely walk.”
In May, the 52-year-old was hospitalised with shortness of breath and a high temperature.
“They found out that my lungs were collapsed so I can’t breathe properly... I thought I was going to die.”
Simmons, who is immuno-compromised after having chemotherapy for follicular lymphoma diagnosed in 2021, would end up spending five weeks in Whakatāne Hospital and two weeks at Tauranga Hospital.
Simmons said she had trouble breathing and a 38 to 41-degree fever that would not go away.
When she was discharged, doctors told her she had pneumonitis - an inflammation of the lungs.
She returned home to recover and had been “taking it easy”.
In September, Simmons felt like she was getting better. She believed the long Covid had eased as the fatigue was gone, but feared the symptoms returning.
Simmons, a part-time support worker, had completed a year of nursing studies in Tauranga but, after her Covid battle, did not think she would continue.
She would return to work when she felt well enough, she said.
Long Covid stops mum working
A Rotorua mother, who did not want to be named for medical privacy reasons, said she got Covid in August last year, and had “never” got over the fatigue.
Some days, she also had dizziness and headaches.
The 39-year-old said it was “really hard to be a joyful mother when you’re dealing with your own exhaustion and fatigue”.
She had not been able to work fulltime in her administration role since getting Covid. She tried working part-time for several months but stopped again in September.
“We all just had to accept I wasn’t getting better.”
She said long Covid “completely changes” her ability to participate in life, including not knowing when she will be able to work again.
She was grateful to have a supportive husband and workplace.
She said some days she felt better but others did not.
“If you overdo it... then the next day might be really challenging and you just can’t do anything.”
‘Severe and disabling’
Otago University epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker said long Covid could be “very severe and disabling”.
Baker said it was “not a new phenomenon” because people already got chronic effects - such as chronic fatigue syndrome - from acute infections.
“The difference here is that it may be more common than with many other infections. But also suddenly, you’ve got the almost universal exposure to an entirely new infection that everyone’s getting in a relatively short period of time.
“We can’t give up on trying to reduce the burden of Covid as well, because minimising the number of times you get infected is probably still very worthwhile.”
Mount Maunganui general practitioner Dr Tony Farrell said a lot of people were coming in with symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat and feeling faint or foggy.
“They’re kind of functioning but I actually think they’ve got long Covid, but quite mild.”
Farrell said while some might need to see a specialist, his main advice was to rest.
”It’s about time. We tell them to go to the long Covid support group and we just treat symptoms and support the best we can.”
Long Covid support in the Bay
Rotorua health and wellness centre QE Health offers a programme to support people with long Covid.
Recharge pain management programme nurse co-ordinator Rachel Gregory said it was mainly for clients with rheumatological and musculoskeletal conditions, but had developed to support “a few” with long Covid.
More were being referred to the programme by their GP.
Fatigue, stress, and pain secondary to having Covid were the most common symptoms.
“Our main goal is to be able to support these clients in moving forward and get back to their normal daily living,” Gregory said.
The holistic programme educated clients about pain management and focused on physical, spiritual, social and emotional support. It included classes on sleep, pacing and stress management, breathing, strength, balance and the psychology of pain.
A Western Bay of Plenty Primary Health Organisation spokesperson said most Bay people having problems post-infection with Covid were managed by their GP or specialist team. Existing programmes, such as Care Plus could be used when needed.
A Te Whatu Ora spokeswoman said protecting those most at risk remained the aim of New Zealand’s response to the virus.
She said there was good access to antiviral medicines for those at risk of developing serious illness, and for some other eligible people who had tested positive for Covid.
“We also continue to encourage people to be up-to-date with their Covid vaccinations, including boosters, which provide added protection.
“The wearing of face masks in health and disability care settings and isolating for at least five days after testing positive for Covid are also recommended.”
Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.