Calgary

Meet 2 COVID-19 'long-haulers' — those whose symptoms persist for months

For the majority of those who catch COVID-19, symptoms typically range from moderate to mild and subside within one to 14 days. But some patients — including Calgarians Janelle Mildenberger and Peter Ruptash — experience something else entirely.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the long-term impacts of the virus are still not fully understood

Peter Ruptash, 64, and Janelle Mildenberger, 29, are still experiencing COVID-19 symptoms months after contracting the virus. (Peter Ruptash/Janelle Mildenberger)

For the majority of those who catch COVID-19, symptoms typically range from moderate to mild and subside within one to 14 days.

But some patients — including Calgarians Janelle Mildenberger and Peter Ruptash — have experienced something else entirely.

Mildenberger and Ruptash are among those individuals who are still suffering from the effects of the virus months later, becoming what's being referred to as COVID-19 "long-haulers."

Mildenberger, 29, has been dealing with coronavirus symptoms since May. She said "pretty much everything has changed" in her life since being diagnosed.

"It's basically fatigue. Most days, I'm very, very tired, more tired than what tired normally feels like," Mildenberger told the Calgary Eyeopener. "Depending on what I've done that day, I might have muscle pain, joint pain, sometimes I get a sore throat, a really bad headache."

Ruptash, 64, said he used to be an avid hiker and guitarist, but can't do much of any of that these days. 

He said he frequently experiences weakness, fatigue, stamina problems, brain fog, dizziness and has even seen hair loss.

"I went into hospital beginning of April and was there for 39 days," Ruptash said.

Ruptash said he has had excellent medical care, but the full scope of the COVID-19 virus still remains a mystery to him and to those around him.

"Well, it is very frightening, especially going from a relatively healthy 60-something person to somebody who can't make the stairs. I [used to] try to walk perhaps 4,000 steps a day," Ruptash said. "My voice is shot. It just goes on and on."

Long-term damage

Speaking Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said that surviving COVID-19 can still be "awful and life-changing."

There is some emerging evidence, Hinshaw said, of the long-term outcomes of COVID-19, particularly for those who have more severe illness, such as an ICU admission.

"There can be long-term damage, such as higher risk of diabetes, and lung damage that doesn't go away when the infection ends," Hinshaw said. "Regardless of age, we don't yet know what impact COVID-19 will have on your lifelong health.

"This is not something to take lightly. It is not an optional suggestion that can be disregarded when inconvenient."

WATCH | Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, talks about potential long-term damage from COVID-19:

Alberta's top doctor concerned about COVID-19 hospitalizations and long-term damage

CBC News Calgary

6 months agoVideo
1:34
Find out why Dr. Deena Hinshaw says she is concerned with the lasting impacts of COVID-19 as Alberta sees more hospitalizations across the province, even in rural areas. 1:34

Hinshaw also pushed back against those who wonder if it might be better to accelerate the spread of infection across Alberta to achieve "herd immunity."

"It is important to remember that we don't yet know if getting infected actually gives a person immunity," she said.

Mildenberger said even though she had a mild case of COVID-19 initially, the long-haul symptoms are extremely unpleasant.

"This has changed my life … I'm scared for the future. It's definitely not something that anybody of any age wants to get," she said.

Alberta reported two more COVID-19 deaths on Friday and 111 new cases of the illness. The total number of active cases in the province is now listed at 1,341, more than half of which are in the Calgary zone.

Health officials have also now designated 15 areas in the province as being under a "watch" for an elevated risk of the spread of the virus, including Calgary-Centre, Calgary-Elbow and Calgary-Upper N.E.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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