The Front Page: Covid reinfection risk shows need to change way we talk about virus

The story of a woman who suffered from Covid-19 for more than a month shows the need to evolve the way we talk about Covid.

NZ Herald reporter Kirsty Wynn tells the Front Page podcast that the symptoms suffered by Auckland woman Clare Jennings were harrowing, spanning from hair loss to nausea and debilitating insomnia.

The story of Jennings, who is triple vaccinated, stands in sharp contrast to the common refrain that Covid-19 infections are mild among the vaccinated.

“There’s this idea that you’re only sick for the seven-day isolation period and then you’re up and at ’em,” Wynn says.

“This just seems to be completely untrue, unless you’re very young, maybe a teenager at school. They seem to be the ones that bounce back a bit easier.”

Wynn says since writing about Jennings, she’s spoken to a number of people who are still feeling terrible a month after their initial infection.

The severe symptoms aren’t limited to those who are immune-compromised or elderly – as is often suggested.

“Clare is really fit and healthy,” Wynn says.

“She’s a solo mum who lives with her son, who is a competitive rower, so she’s taking good care of their health. She’s been hit really hard by this.”

A factor contributing to the notion that Covid-19 isn’t severe is that all the emphasis has been placed on the Omicron variant, which has become the most dominant in New Zealand.

However, the more harmful Delta variant is still in circulation and infecting people on a daily basis. It’s also worth noting a previous bout of Covid doesn’t mean you can’t catch it again.

In Jennings’ case, she first tested positive and recovered quite quickly, but shortly thereafter she was hit by another bout of the virus.

“She started feeling really bad and she was hit by entirely new symptoms. She now believes she has had two strains of Covid-19. Her recent PCR test confirmed that she had Delta and she is now awaiting the results of a second PCR test to determine if she has Omicron as well.”

While the Ministry of Health says examples of co-infection are rare, a study from Imperial College London showed the risk of reinfection with Omicron was more than five times higher compared with Delta.

This also comes amid the threat of new variants crossing New Zealand’s borders.

Last week, Associate Professor of microbiology Dr Siouxsie Wiles expressed particular concern about new strains of Omicron, which have been identified in South Africa.

This all comes as New Zealand heads into the colder months and immunity wanes after last year’s vaccine push.

While restrictions are relaxing here and around the world, the risk of the virus remains real for vulnerable and healthy New Zealanders alike.

Wynn says Jennings’ case is an important reminder what we do in the coming months could play a major role in keeping those around us safe.

It’s also important to remember Covid-19 is only mild if you’re lucky.

The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald,available to listen to every weekday from 5am.

• You can follow the podcast at, iHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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