ROME – When Morena Colombi tested negative for the coronavirus on March 16, official figures counted her among recoveries from Covid-19, a success amid the tragedies that plagued Italy. But she hadn’t recovered at all, her cough and debilitating fatigue were far from over.
Five weeks later, on April 21, she returned to her color development work for a cosmetic company, but with shortness of breath and sore muscles, she found herself unable to take even short walks. Another test confirmed that she was no longer infected. But 11 weeks after being tested positive, the same day, the first Italian cities quarantined, it still has not returned to normal.
“It takes a long time,” said Colombi, 59, who lives in Truccazzano, outside the city of Milan in the north of the country. “I can’t find my natural rhythms. “
Italy was the first European country hit hard by the pandemic – its intensive care units were flooded and its elderly died in droves before the tsunami reached Spain, France, the United States or Great Britain. Italy is therefore also ahead in coping with the long duration of the disease and the lasting consequences for some survivors.
Many Italians have become painfully familiar with how the infection can persist for weeks, the symptoms can persist for weeks, and complete healing can take longer – if it ever happens. Of the more than 218,000 people in Italy who tested positive, more than 30,000 died and the government lists more than 103,000 as recovered.
The stubbornness of the virus and the length of convalescence have become subjects of conversation in the north of Italy where some of the most hardened Italians find themselves in physical and financial uncertainty, unable to shake off illness and fatigue and to return to work.
Their experience can also be instructive for other countries struggling to revive their economies.
“We have seen many cases where people take a long time to recover,” said Alessandro Venturi, director of the San Matteo hospital in the city of Pavia in Lombardy, adding that the discomfort often seems to last longer for people with milder symptoms. “It is not the disease that lasts 60 days, it is convalescence,” he said. “It is a very long recovery. “
Most people who get the virus have few or no symptoms, but some get very sick, most often with pneumonia. Any pneumonia damages the lungs, which can take months to heal, and doctors warn that the ailment may not be completely reversible.
Studies also indicate kidney, heart, liver and neurological damage, often due to secondary infections, and no one knows what the long-term prospects are for these patients.
But even some of the infected who avoided pneumonia describe an incredibly persistent and unpredictable disease, with unexpected symptoms. The bones are broken. The senses are dull. The stomachs are constantly upset. There are good and bad days with no rhyme or apparent reason.
The afflicted find the simplest tasks trying. The tests are still mainly reserved for hospitalized people, so people with less severe but stubborn symptoms are dragged by doubt about the presence of the virus.
Dr Annalisa Malara, an intensive care doctor in Codogno, southeast of Milan, who diagnosed the first case of the epidemic in Italy in February, said there was still no clear understanding of the reason why the virus and its effects persisted for so long.
“Lack of energy and the feeling of fracture” are common, she said, adding that fatigue often persisted “even after the most intense symptoms have subsided.”
In northern Italy, the epicenter of contagion in this country, a partial lifting of isolation this month allowed more family and friends to compare notes on their experiences.
“It never ends,” said Martina Sorlini, a 29-year-old math and physics teacher who has had a mild fever since early March. She said that the cough and sore throat were finally gone and that after three weeks she had regained her taste and smell and even found enough energy to run and take care of the vegetables in her garden.
Then come stomach upset, tiredness and the return of fever. And he’s not gone, which makes it extremely tiring to teach his online lessons in high school.
“I was convinced that I was getting better. They don’t know what happened, “said Sorlini. “They see everything for the first time too. “
Some say that the experience of those who have suffered for a long time, if not seriously ill, deserves more attention.
Edmondo Cirielli, a member of the right-wing Italian Brotherhood party, argued that the health ministry should pay more attention to cases like his.
Over the weekend of March 7, Mr. Cirielli had a fever and suffered from cold symptoms, and convinced himself that he had caught the virus by touching an infected surface in the Houses of Parliament. He tested positive that week.
Almost immediately, he said, his fever and cough went away and he thought he would be fine. Then he had what he called a “little respiratory attack” which put him in the hospital.
But he had no pneumonia, so he went home in auto-quarantine. There he suffered debilitating fatigue, sore throat, diarrhea and severe pain at the base of the neck which made concentration impossible.
“One day, I was fine, the next bad. There was no building to reach a summit and then descend. It went up and down for a month, ”he said.
Then things got stranger.
After 40 days of lousy feeling, he tested negative for the virus, but his eyes were still burning and the bouts of diarrhea continued, he said.
At the end of the month, he finally felt better, but another test result came back positive, forcing him to spend more weeks in isolation, where he continued to watch “Versailles” on Netflix.
The tests are imperfect and not everyone has access to them.
Ingrid Magni, 44, had a fever and chills on March 21.
“It never left me,” she said, adding that she started having severe headaches after about three weeks. Doctors could only recommend over-the-counter pain relievers and bed rest. She was short of breath just making her bed.
“I had to sit down,” she said. ” I was too tired. “
Without the eligibility to receive a swab test, which is usually reserved for hospital patients, she told her boss at a chemical plant that she would undergo an antibody test, which could be used to trigger a test. official swab for the virus itself if antibodies are detected.
But the results did not return. She can’t wait to go back to work in the middle of the month and doesn’t know how many more sick days the doctor will sign.
Others just want to feel better.
Albertina Bonetti, 77, of Trescore Balneario, near Bergamo, developed nausea and fever on March 7, followed by dry bouts and diarrhea. After 10 days of fever, her legs started to hurt so much that she couldn’t put her feet on the ground.
She needed an oxygen tank from March 20 to the end of April, but when she went to the hospital, staff refused to admit her – so she too was not tested.
Bonetti said she was still short of breath and tired and her senses were out of control. In the morning, she misses normal life and the taste of her café au lait.
“It leaves something in you,” she said of the virus. “And you never come back like before. “
Emma Bubola contributed to the Milan reports.
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