Saturday 21 March 2020

Covid-19: there's a lot of it about

The world is currently gripped by fear as Covid-19 continues to spread across every continent, bar Antarctica.

We have just been suffering with 'the lurgy'...

...but was this Covid-19?


On the 26th February we took a trip up to London to see a pop-up exhibition on Vincent van Gogh. Just over 24 hours later, I started to get a 'rough' throat' sensation that I normally associate with the beginnings of a common cold. (I say 'rough throat' because many people associate 'sore throat' with just a sharp pain when they try to swallow.)

"Sorrowing Old Man" by Vincent van Gogh

Over the next few days I developed a dry cough and felt cold most of the time, so made a point of staying inside in the warm. I didn't measure my temperature, but I must have had a mild fever. At this time, I thought my chances of contracting Coronavirus were similar to winning the Lottery (...and I don't even buy tickets!).

However, within 8 or 9 days my wife became unwell, and a few days later 'the lurgy' had got a grip on her. I've never seen her so ill during the last 32 years that we have been together. She spent 4 or 5 days in bed, unable and unwilling to venture downstairs for meals.

Once again she started with the 'rough throat', then the dry cough, and then a high fever. She was shivering and shaking uncontrollably, so naturally piled a second duvet onto the bed, while I cranked up the heating. But when I found her temperature has risen to over 40'C, I realised she was in danger. So off came the bed-clothes, on went the fan and, despite squeals of protest, I applied cold wet flannels to her skin.

a word or two about heatstroke...

The human body operates within fairly tight temperature limits.
Heatstroke is when the body temperature reaches or exceeds 40'C (as my wife's did). She was also shaking & shivering because she felt cold and was showing signs of confusion.
Its a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage to the brain and other vital organs that can result in death.
The patient must be cooled down quickly by:-
  • lying down with legs elevated to get blood flowing to heart
  • drinking water (not alcohol or coffee)
  • using a fan to help cool the patient
  • removing clothing
  • applying cool wet towels to the skin
  • taking medication to lower fever (e.g. paracetamol)

Do not put the patient in a cold bath or shower.
We had to keep a close watch on my wife's temperature over the next few days. Although Paracetamol would keep it under control, we felt it was not a good idea to keep taking the drug every 4 hours. Instead we took her temperature every 20 minutes when it was above 38'C and we were trying to bring it back under control. And every hour or two at other times, so we could detect any upward trend.

When her temperature did rise above 39'C, it could take 2 hours to get it back below 38'C.


The common symptoms are a fever and a dry cough, although its worth noting that some people tested positive for Covid-19 with no apparent symptoms.

Our symptoms (in addition to the two common ones; fever & dry cough) include:-
  • a 'rough' or 'sore' throat
  • an indescribable feeling which we just call 'feeling extremely grotty'
  • a sudden on/off runny nose (but more off than on)
  • lack of appetite
  • lack of taste (even tea doesn't taste like tea)
  • occasional headaches, although this may be simply due to not drinking enough water
  • fatigue; we mostly slept OK at night...then again at unpredictable times during the day
  • we had no energy until a couple of days after the fever has subsided

After 23 days, I still feel rotten and I have a 'wet' cough. I'm still prone to fall asleep in the afternoon and/or during the evening.

could it have just been seasonal flu?

I had an annual flu jab last year, which I understand is a cocktail of 4 common flu viruses. So its unlikely (but I suppose possible) that it was one of those, or just some other unidentified bug. The only way we would know for sure is if our government starts testing with a suitable post-virus test kit.

At the moment, the commercial tests have not been rigorously validated for accuracy (e.g. the test result could be wrong in n% of cases). Even when they find a suitable test and start rolling it out, I suspect we will be right at the back of the queue.

Our government announced this week that they would be obtaining hundreds of thousands of kits once they were happy with performance. As a retired couple, I suspect we are currently #20,000,001 and #20,000,002 in the queue.

don't panic!

This is not a plague like the Black Death. Everyone needs to take this thing seriously and observe the advice regarding personal hygiene and [anti] social distancing. But if you spend every minute of every day worrying about it, it will quickly take control of you and your mental health will go down hill fast.

Its a good idea to take a stroll outside in the fresh air. If you have a nice garden, lucky you. But you should be able to walk around a local park, along the beach or through the woods...just keep your distance. And if you have to touch gates, rails or anything else that others are likely to touch...don't touch your face and wash your hands properly.

And of course, don't hit the shops and 'panic'. Even buying 5% more than you normally would is adding to the supply problems and is creating shortages.

I do recommend that you get a sensible thermometer and start measuring your temperature. By 'sensible' I mean one designed to be used under the tongue (or under the armpit for small children). Accurate temperature measurements are always tricky, so use the same method every time to ensure you can confidently compare one measurement with the next (e.g. we measure under the tongue for 80 seconds...but carefully read the instructions with your particular model).

You should take your temperature several times a day, and remember your temp may vary between morning, evening and other times. A higher than usual temperature is currently the best indication that all is not well.

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