Nova Scotia

N.S. woman still deals with 'debilitating' symptoms 5 months after getting COVID-19

It's been nearly five months since 28-year-old Jennifer Mont got COVID-19. She still moves slowly, careful not to overdo it and risk feeling the now-familiar tightness in her chest.  

Doctor says there are still many mysteries surrounding COVID-19 'long-haulers'

Jennifer Mont, 28, experienced her first COVID-19 symptom on April 23 and her case was considered resolved a few weeks later, but the symptoms remain. (Jennifer Mont)

It's been nearly five months since 28-year-old Jennifer Mont got COVID-19.

She still paces herself, careful not to overdo it and risk feeling the now-familiar pain in her chest.  

Mont, from Halifax, N.S., was diagnosed with the virus in late April. By May 17, her case was technically resolved, but the symptoms never really went away. 

These days, the chest pain and fatigue come and go, and she also experiences something she never expected with COVID-19 — difficulty processing her thoughts and a tendency to forget things suddenly.

"It's debilitating symptoms for months. Like, I'm not able to work and I'm not the only one," Mont told CBC's Information Morning on Friday. 

Mont is what doctors call a COVID-19 long-hauler, someone who experiences symptoms long after the virus is detectable in their bodies.

While there are still many questions about who is impacted long-term and why, an infectious disease specialist says cases like Mont's can't be ignored.

"I think people should have a healthy respect for this virus and the long-term effects it can have even in young people," said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University.

For some people, COVID-19 can be a debilitating disease that takes months and months to fully recover from. That's the case for Jennifer Mont, a long-haul COVID-19 patient. We heard about her ongoing symptoms, and then talked to infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett about what it all means. 14:30

Mont didn't think much of it when she got sick at the end of April. She didn't have a fever and it felt like the sinus infection she was used to getting.

But two days after her first symptoms, things took a turn. 

"I basically lost my voice. I was completely stuffed up. It was a little bit hard to breathe at times, sore throat," she said, "And I was like, OK, something's different here."

Mont has underlying health conditions. After testing positive for COVID-19, she was hospitalized a couple times in May dealing with severe shortness of breath.

Mont's case of COVID-19 was considered resolved not long after that, but she continued to call her doctor when the symptoms didn't go away. She was eventually referred to a specialist.

In June, she felt well enough to return to work, but that only lasted a couple of weeks.

"Then July 3, something hit me again, like a huge wave of fatigue," she said.

Mont said a doctor told her "you're just one of those long-haulers," a term she'd never heard before. She was later diagnosed with post-viral COVID-19 syndrome, she said.

Many COVID-19 long-haulers are sharing their stories of dealing with symptoms weeks or months after contracting COVID-19.

How many 'long-haulers' are there?

Doctors like Barrett are still trying to figure out why this is happening.

While it's common for patients to feel out of sorts for several weeks after the virus is technically resolved, "the true extended syndrome that goes into months seems to be less frequent," Barrett said.

Right now, she said it's likely that less than 10 per cent of people who contract COVID-19 experience these long-term symptoms for months.

The symptoms vary greatly among people, from chest pain and difficulty breathing to headaches and other neurological symptoms, Barrett said. 

Dr. Lisa Barrett is a medical school professor and infectious disease researcher at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. (CBC)

"It's not common, to be honest, it doesn't seem at this point, but there are some people who have difficulty thinking or processing thoughts, generating new memories, which … is not something we would have expected necessarily in the beginning of this," she said. 

Barrett said it's important for people to be aware that there can be much more severe long-term effects with COVID-19 than what is seen in other respiratory viruses. 

"I don't want to fear-monger about this and turn it into something that happens to everyone. We don't even know what this syndrome is at this point, but it is present. It does exist," she said. 

You really don't want this.​​​​- Jennifer Mont, COVID-19 long-hauler

While young people haven't been hit as hard by COVID-19 as the elderly or those with underlying health conditions, Barrett and Mont say young people shouldn't be complacent.

"You really don't want this," Mont said. "I don't think they really take it as seriously as they should because they look at the statistics and see, oh, there's a high survival rate, but little do they know that that's not the only factor."

She joined a support group on Facebook for COVID-19 long-haulers and has enrolled in an online rehabilitation program put on by a doctor in New York.

"I am having a few more good days than bad days, but you never know when the relapses are going to happen, right? I'm being optimistic right now."

With files from CBC's Information Morning

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