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Physician And Patients Share How To Recover If You Get Covid-19

We talked to a doctor, a recovered Covid-19 patient, and a former Person Under Monitoring (PUM) to understand how Covid-19 is treated

It’s been roughly two months since the whole country went into lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus, but the number of cases are still climbing by the day. As of writing, total Covid-19 cases have reached more than 4.4 million worldwide. In the Philippines, more than 12,091 patients have been confirmed with the virus, with over 2,460 recoveries and 806 deaths.

As the world continues to try to understand and battle this virus, no organization or institution has yet to discover a cure or vaccine against Covid-19. But if there’s something to comfort us in these uncertain times, it’s that many of the studies published about coronavirus, including this paper published in the Science of The Total Environment, says that mortality rate for Covid-19 is only at 0.75% to 3%. This means that more than 97% of people who contract the virus should recover.

So what exactly is Covid-19 recovery like?

The basic rule that most hospitals follow when treating Covid-19 is to treat the symptoms.

Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, who is currently based at RITM, explains, “Since Covid-19 is a viral infection, it follows a maxim—most viral infections resolve by themselves. That’s why people with the common cold, which is in itself caused by a number of viruses including coronaviruses related to SARS CoV 2, will go away by itself. It’s when the body’s response to a virus becomes dysregulated that a person develops symptoms and complications.”

In simplest terms, that means there is no one cure for Covid-19; you simply have to combat its symptoms. That’s why he emphasizes, that “there is a great disparity with regard to asking ‘how people recover’” since it will depend largely on the person—what his or her symptoms are, what are the complications that arise due to contracting the virus, and whether the person is treated at home or at a hospital.

“If you’re in the high risk groups, you’ve got a greater chance of developing complications and likely a longer road to recovery. That’s why for people who fall under those, they are the ones prioritized for admission so we can give appropriate treatment,” Dr. Gonzalez adds.

According to Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Program, recovery can take up to six weeks, depending on how mild or severe the symptoms are. In fact, some who suffer from very severe illnesses such as cytokine release syndrome (CRS), which is a common illness among older and immunocompromised people who contract Covid-19, may have to battle the disease for months. Those who had to be put in ventilators can even walk away after recovery from Covid-19 with long-term physical damage if they develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can scar their lung tissue.

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Recovering from the hospital

One patient who has recovered from Covid-19 is a 59-year-old mom from Laguna who was confined in the hospital for 15 days and had to undergo home self-isolation for another 14 days after testing negative.

Her son tells that “It started with diarrhea, on and off fever, then pneumonia. That’s when they suspected that it could be Covid-19 and got her tested.”

Just like in standard hospital procedures regarding Covid-19 treatment, she was treated symptomatically and took three different antibiotics for her symptoms. Her son adds, “Since there isn’t a direct cure for Covid-19 yet, her immunologist used Hydroxychloroquine, a non-label medicine that was used to cure malaria…until her gradual full recovery.”

In a recent news article published by the National Institutes of Health, they have started clinical trials to evaluate whether Hydroxychloroquine, given together with the antibiotic azithromycin, can indeed prevent hospitalization and death from Covid-19.

During her time in the hospital, she was also prescribed to do 5 to 10 minutes of light exercises often to counter the deteriorating effects of being bedridden on the body.

Recovering at home

Another interesting case is Jorell Gonzaga, who recently underwent 26 days of self-isolation to battle what felt like Covid-19. Unfortunately, although he showed prolonged symptoms, he was never tested for the disease. Jorell works as a creative researcher at ABS-CBN Film Productions Inc. In March, there have been a surge of Covid-19 cases from ABS-CBN artists, including Christopher de Leon, Iza Calzado, and Sylvia Sanchez.

Jorell experienced fever, vomiting, headache, sore throat, body aches, and chills, and was declared as PUM last April 16. He then underwent self-quarantine for 14 days, but his fever just got higher, his coughs worsened, and he even experienced diarrhea. “We decided to call the ER again, hoping that I will be tested so I will know what my pain is. But unfortunately, we were advised that there is no need to take me to the hospital as long as I don’t find it difficult to breathe,” he shared.

Instead, he was only prescribed to take paracetamol every four hours for his fever, ascorbic acid for his immune system, anti-bacterial gargle for his sore throat, an antitussive-expectorant for his cough, and Pocari Sweat to keep him from getting dehydrated from his diarrhea. Jorell laments the lack of Covid-19 testing availability, even in the Metro, despite the claims last month of the Department of Health (DOH) that they will ramp up mass testing as soon as more laboratories have been given license.

According to data by the DOH, as of May 11, only 166,470 individuals have been tested for Covid-19, a mere 0.15% of the country’s 108.5 million population.

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So, what now?

Despite the unavailability of mass testing, Dr. Gonzalez recommends to seek medical help when experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. Most mild cases and those with no travel history or possible exposure to suspected or confirmed cases won’t merit hospitalization due to the current hospital capacity, but it is possible to recover safely at home—as long as you strictly follow the orders of your doctor and you quarantine yourself from other members of your family to avoid the spread of the virus.

But while the Filipinos are resilient enough to overcome even Covid-19, the problems surrounding the handling of the pandemic situation continue to flare up.

Recently, the UP Resilience Institute has called out the alarming errors and inaccuracies in patient-level data and the official count of the LGU vis-à-vis the DOH’s, emphasizing that “Decisions [in handling the pandemic] depend on data, and any analysis is only as good as the data at hand.”

Many Filipinos, like Jorell, have been gripped with anxiety and frustration as they try to recover from an unknown virus with a blindfold over their eyes and their hands tied down. That’s why on top of the demand for more consistent data gathering, which can help institutions and doctors fight the disease, the battle cry of many remains: #MassTestingNow.  

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