In November of 2019, I caught a cold. In truth, that cold came from a virus. I know that now, but this happened before there was any talk about SARS-CoV-2 the virus that causes COVID-19. I became symptomatic in November after an up-close conversation with a friend who had a cold (sounded stuffy, was coughing). That friend had just returned from visiting another very ill friend who was hospitalized in Phoenix for “an unknown respiratory infection that was nonresponsive to any traditional treatments.” Yikes, so sorry to hear that! It didn’t cross my mind that my friend might have had a milder version of what the hospitalized patient had; or that I could catch it. Within a couple of days, I had a sore throat and congestion. I hunkered down with my known remedies for a cold (i.e. hot water with ginger, lemon, and honey) and felt better within a couple of days. I celebrated my robust immune system.
I didn’t know then what I know now about colds. I learned that most common colds are caused by any one of over 200 viruses; mostly rhinoviruses (“rhino” meaning in the nose). Viruses usually spread from host to host via airborne droplets or aerosols, but recent research indicates that viral transmission can also occur via dust particles. It is helpful to know the difference between colds and flu (both are caused by a virus), and allergies (caused by an immune reaction to an allergen). Cold-causing viruses are generally self-limiting and clear out of the body in 7-14 days after symptom onset. Flu-causing viruses may take a little longer as symptoms can be more intense, including a fever or lingering cough.
Coughing is common for both colds and flu, with flu coughing being a bit more severe. Coughing is less common for allergy sufferers and is usually triggered by swelling or irritation of airways or postnasal drip. A lingering virus can spread viral particles via airborne aerosols or droplets from coughing, sneezing, talking, or singing. Despite breathing in viral particles of some sort in 2019, I had sailed right through my symptoms, and didn’t have a cough. I was hit with something again a few weeks later in early December. This time symptoms were much worse and included a cough that lasted into January 2020.
While I didn’t consider my illness to be severe, I was sick for two weeks, then could not kick that cough. At week five, I broke down and went to an urgent care center. The doctor there prescribed a step-down packet of steroids and breathing treatments to help me kick it. He told me he had seen an inordinate number of respiratory cases in December that were not resolving as they should with treatment. About four weeks after clearing the cough, I started to experience dizziness, fatigue, and my minor cat allergy turned into major allergic reactions with anaphylaxis signals like tongue and eyelids swelling. This was shocking and scary to say the least. When anaphylaxis happens, the chances of having it happen again increases. I now carry an EpiPen.
For most of the pandemic years I believed, as many of us did, that the virus didn’t start circulating globally until late January 2020. We later learned that patient zero was diagnosed in China on November 17, 2019, and there could have been sporadic cases in China as early as October 2019. With international travel being common, and the fact that this is an airborne virus that can spread before symptoms appear, thousands of unsuspecting travelers may have carried the virus to the four corners of the globe even before November of 2019. The first “official” case in the U.S. was on January 20, 2020, in Washington state. By March 17, 2020, all 50 states had confirmed cases. Everyone remembers the lockdowns and death counts in the early pandemic days. Today, I count myself lucky to be doing as well as I am given that it could have been much worse.
Thank you for reading! Next up in this Long Covid series, I’ll share some LC statistics and thoughts about my mortal coil.
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