The trends on covid-19 have constantly evolved since the beginning of the outbreak. New findings are being made on a regular basis, hence the need to stay constantly updated and aware. As a medical student in my final year, this need to stay updated was particularly emphasized, both for the sake of staying informed to be able to stay safe, and for the sake of passing my exams in medical school (as is the norm in medical school, we already knew we were not going to be escaping questions on covid-19 in our next community medicine exam. So we were already imagining likely questions based on the trends of the disease, and practising how to answer the questions).
Personally, I’ve always paid particular attention to my personal hygiene and the cleanliness of my environment. Being that I spend all my days in the hospital, hand hygiene was a norm for me. So when the outbreak of covid-19 began and the bulk of the public health guidelines on the prevention was on maintaining a good hygiene, I had no problem adapting. It was already part of me. I only had to pay a closer attention. I was also staying at home, in accordance to the public health guidelines. At the same time, I had to make sure those around me were staying safe too. At the onset, I was saddled with the burden of health education for my neighbours at home; a lot of them doubted the existence of the virus, so I had to constantly educate them on the reality of the virus and the need to stay safe. A lot of us were living in denial, and when we kept seeing how many developed nations were being crippled by the virus, we wondered what fate holds for us in this part of the world with our poor health system and economy. A lot of us kept wishing it away, as a defense mechanism against the fear that was welling up inside us. Nevertheless, we naturally developed the consciousness for safety. Natural reflexes like a cough or a sneeze became a suspect.
I developed fever on a fateful afternoon. The fever was in a pattern typical of malaria. So I got antimalaria medications. Meanwhile, there was a subtle fear that was beginning to nurse in my mind, knowing that fever was a symptom of covid-19. Coincidentally, two of my sisters became sick at the same time as me. That doubled the fears in my mind. However, every other person in the house was okay. I was silently in a serious dilemma. I kept my fears to myself. I took my antimalaria medications. My siblings got well after a few days. I got better after completing my medications. Everything was okay again.
However, few days later, I noticed that I could not perceive the scent of my deodorant. It was a cold season and I had a stuffy nose then, so I felt that could be the cause of the loss of smell. Then, I noticed it was not just my deodorant, I could not perceive any smell. The air was just fresh. The fears came back. It was worse because of how much knowledge I had on the trends of the virus. I don’t know if it was my mind playing games on me, something we called the “medical student syndrome”, whereby you read about a disease condition and you start feeling as if you are suffering from the disease already. I imagined the worst. I was scared. Have I caught the virus? How did I get it? But very striking was the fact that I was the only one experiencing such in the whole house. I seriously wanted to believe it was because of my stuffy nose. I stayed indoors anyway, since I was not sure what it was.
On interacting with my friends and colleagues from different states, a lot of them reported experiencing the same thing I was experiencing. On Twitter, I saw a lot of people making similar complaints. There were plenty reports of people coming down with “malaria”, associated with loss of smell. Some people reported losing their taste. But they all said their sense of smell returned after two weeks. There were no other symptoms, just the loss of smell and/or taste.
My confusion doubled. My fear doubled as well, because loss of smell and taste had just been added to the list of covid-19 symptoms, even though they were among the minor symptoms. My sense of smell returned after two weeks. But looking back in retrospect, my dilemma is still there. Is there a new strain of malaria that causes loss of smell and taste? Or was it covid-19? If it was covid-19, does our immune system have a special strength different from the whites? Why was it so common? (I mean the reports of spontaneous loss of smell and/or taste) Was it just a coincidence?
I understand it’s not unusual to want to attribute every symptom to covid-19, being that it is a novel virus. So every symptom becomes a suspect. The fear, anxiety and confusion are very palpable.
While we continue to stay safe, the question keeps coming up in my mind: covid-19 or a new strain of malaria?