Mood and anxiety disorders are side effects that have been identified in survivors of the pandemic.
The calm hasn’t come after the storm. There is only a tense calm in its place. Here’s the story of Naela, a Covid-19 survivor.
She’s 30 years old and works as a neonatal nurse at a private hospital in Mexico City. In an interview with Tec Review, she says that her fear of catching it again won’t go away.
On November 6 of last year, she experienced the first symptoms of the disease, and on November 13, she entered the Covid-19 Voluntary Isolation Center at San Pablo Tepetlapa Naval Park, in the south of Mexico City.
There, she was under medical treatment until she checked out on December 23, after finally testing negative for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in her body.
“Ever since I was diagnosed, I thought I was going to die, and that first they were going to put me on a ventilator and insert a catheter,” says Naela, who fortunately overcame Covid-19 with just rest and medication.
The panic hasn’t completely gone away. Naela refuses to grasp the metal handrails in the city’s subway cars.
“I don’t hold on to the tubes on the subway. I prefer to lean on them with one arm, because I feel like the virus is on them,” she tells us.
Although she’s already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine against this disease, she doesn’t feel completely at ease, especially after learning that people who have received the vaccines will “likely” need a third booster dose.
This is because according to Albert Bourla, the pharmaceutical company’s CEO, a third dose will raise the antibody response 10- to 20- fold, which would work to combat the most contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2.
The uncertainty has also triggered compulsive thoughts about how she got sick, an impossible question to answer, but one that hasn’t stopped going round and round in her head.
“Sometimes, I think I caught it because the virus got in my hair, but the truth is I don’t know how it happened,” she says.
Naela’s case is consistent with the contents of an article published on April 6 in renowned journal The Lancet.
This released the results of a study carried out on 236,379 American patients.
After getting over Covid-19, around a third of recovered patients are suffering from some kind of mental disorder.
“We aimed to provide robust estimates of incidence rates and relative risks of neurological and psychiatric diagnoses in patients in the six months following a Covid-19 diagnosis,” the document reads.
These effects occurred more often in patients who had recovered from Covid-19 than in people who had recovered from the flu or other respiratory illnesses.
The most common of these were anxiety, at 17 %, and mood disorders, at 14 %.
However, “more data are needed to adequately assess the effects of Covid-19 on brain health,” says the study.
Naela’s current situation reflects those percentages. Every day, she fights a mental battle with the fear of catching Covid-19 again, but she’s slowly winning.
“Although it’s happening less often, I’m still afraid of being in places with a lot of people. When I see someone coughing or sneezing, I imagine I’m going to catch the virus again, and I don’t want to think like that anymore,” says Naela.
She lives with her brother, who’s a year older than her; her mother, who has had lung problems for a long time; and her father, who has high blood pressure.
Her parents’ conditions put them in the group of people with an increased risk of dying from SARS-CoV-2. This further increases Naela’s fear, because under no circumstances would she want to endanger her parents’ lives.
“I think that infecting them would be something I’d never forgive myself for,” says Naela, while lowering her gaze. Then she smiles, appearing to put this possibility out of her mind.
During the interview, held in an outdoor space with social distancing measures, Naela shows optimism. Outweighing her fear caused by Covid-19 is her strong determination to continue focusing on what she likes most in life: her job as a nurse taking care of newborns.