19 January 2022

Getting Omicron has been way worse than I expected

| Zoya Patel
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Ken Behrens

Vaccinate and boost, wear a mask, socially distance, wash your hands, sanitise … you can do the right things and still get COVID. Photo: David Murtagh.

It’s just like a mild cold, they said. If you’re vaccinated, you’ll barely experience the symptoms. It’s really not that bad. Well, six days after contracting Omicron, I have to say it was definitely that bad. In fact, it has been worse than I expected in almost every way.

Last Wednesday, both my partner and I woke up with sore throats. We’d been told that a family member we’d recently seen was going to get tested for COVID as they had been feeling unwell.

At first, I was pretty convinced that we wouldn’t test positive. For a start, we’re both vaccinated and I have had my booster as well. We’re all avid mask wearers and sanitisers. And even though all the evidence around me showed that Omicron spreads like crazy and that all of those safeguards wouldn’t prevent me from getting the virus, just from experiencing the worst of it, I really wanted to believe I could dodge it.

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I did a rapid antigen test which came back negative, but by that point, I was feeling feverish and achy, so the next morning, I spent three hours in line at the Mitchell testing facility and got a PCR. We also found out that our relative tested positive.

We isolated, assuming the worst, and 2.5 days later, I got the dreaded text message. In fact, I received five dreaded text messages over the next eight hours because ACT Health kept resending my notification as if the first one hadn’t quite sunk in. Positive. It was here. After two years of waiting for it, I got COVID.

Before Omicron, living in Canberra, I genuinely didn’t think that I would actually get COVID. We had done such a good job containing the spread, I don’t work in any high-risk occupations, and I’m really lucky to be able to easily and effectively socially distance.

Once I did get it, I was still pretty sure that the bad feelings would be gone in a day or two. Instead, I’ve had six days now of feeling the worst I have from any illness ever. Fever, aches, nausea, headaches, sore throat, wheezing in my chest, you name it, I’ve had it.

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Most days, it’s been an immense effort to get up, and most of my time has been spent lying on the couch trying to digest any form of entertainment that my sliding attention span can lock on to. I do have an underlying condition, with already causes ongoing chronic pain, but my very healthy partner was equally affected, so I think it’s fair to say that my experiences are likely to be shared by other people who get Omicron.

One thing is for certain – if this is what it’s like to have COVID having had all my jabs, I can’t imagine how bad it is if you’re not vaccinated. And those who say we should just let it rip through the community, that everyone is going to get it anyway, that we just have to get back to normal and stop being held hostage by the virus – I think you might sing a different tune if you’d actually had it.

It’s hard to know when the fog of fatigue and fever will fully lift, and of course, the threat of long-COVID is giving me a fair amount of anxiety.

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The level of support provided by health services is very minimal. There are various opt-in telehealth opportunities, but I shudder to think what would happen if I was illiterate, had language barriers, lived with disability or a mental health condition, or was experiencing an unstable or unsafe home environment. Luckily for me, I have plenty of family and friends around to bring groceries; I live with my partner, so we both had company; and we don’t have kids, which would be very stressful and difficult.

In many ways, I have the best possible life to suffer the minor inconvenience of illness. And it has still absolutely drained me of all energy, any enthusiasm for the next day, week or month, and an inability to imagine getting back to ‘normal’.

Take it from me – you don’t want COVID. Take every possible precaution you can to avoid infection, and don’t think you’re overreacting if you’re feeling unwell and want to get tested. I am so glad we isolated as soon as we had the first inkling of symptoms and that no one else in our immediate networks has caught it from us.

Here’s hoping the rest of 2022 is better than the past fortnight.

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Hadn’t realised the RiotACT had so many commenters with physician or immunology training.

While reading here, I noticed that among the usual weird facebook views there was a journal reference, so I looked it up.

Deanna Ezzy, do you realise your reference is to a study which is clearly crap? Despite its use of the words “randomized controlled trial” it is no such thing. There is no control group: no reference population, no non-treatment nor placebo group. It is not double-blind. All subjects received full normal medical treatment. You can see this (by omission) in the tables as well as in the flowery text. At least it admits in there that it has nothing new to say about vitamin D, agreeing with existing knowledge. There appear to be other more obscure problems but “not a reliable study” will do for here. It was financed by the Rinehart Medical Foundation, not a charity as of 2019.

I appreciate people referencing their claims but those references too need evaluation.

Of course no one want to get sick, but it is part of the human experience and unavoidable. The real question is, and always has been, what kind of world do you want to bequeath your children. Do you want them to live in a world where they never make friends because they’re educated remotely, where they can’t play group sports, where the government tracks their every movement, where they can never see the smile of someone they’re attracted to, where they always live in fear? The UK has just released data showing the average age of death of this virus exceeds the average life expectancy. None of which isn’t to say that this virus isn’t bad and that stupid risks should be taken, but you do that by protecting the vulnerable, not by stealing life from those in their prime. Government has been an absolute disaster. The only way to have avoided this situation is to not mess about with viruses in labs.

The only problem with your theory and quoting the average age of deaths, is those deaths have happened in an environment of restrictions.

Same with people who argue that because covid deaths have been less than our “normal” flu deaths we have all over reacted. But again doesn’t look at what those deaths would be like without interventions and controls.

As for the rest of your post about the world we leave kids, sure if this was life for ever more you might be into something, but short term, sure may have an impact but better that than a death rate shed loads more than what we have had.

The problem with your position is there isn’t any evidence that restrictions accomplished anything. Indeed, if you plot infections across similar jurisdictions across the world, you literally cannot tell which jurisdictions had restrictions and which didn’t. Instead of wasting all the resources on enforcing damage on everyone, they could have been better focused on protecting the particularly vulnerable, like aged care facilities. Aged care workers have shit pay and often work multiple jobs. Government could have solved both of those problems short term and didn’t. Closing international borders only “worked” because we are an island, but, as we’re seeing now, it didn’t really “work”, it just delayed the inevitable. We could be two years further ahead with dealing with this than we are now. Especially considering those two years weren’t spent on preparing the health system, just squandered.

Also, it has been two years. How short is “short term”?

The Silver,

Your comment is wrong on restrictions, there is ample evidence as to the effectiveness of restrictions. The question is whether on balance they achieve outcomes over the longer term.

For example, your statement:

“Indeed, if you plot infections across similar jurisdictions across the world, you literally cannot tell which jurisdictions had restrictions and which didn’t.”

This ignores the fact that countries only enacted restrictions to reduce the impacts of outbreaks, so of course they won’t look much different from those countries who either didn’t have outbreaks or whose outbreaks were far less severe in the first place. This does not mean the restrictions weren’t effective in reducing infection rates in the specific places they were enacted.

The problem as you put it, is the time in restrictions should have been used to increase the capacity of the health system and in some places this hasn’t occurred.

We are now seeing the outbreaks on the east coast of Australia peaking, and the health system has actually held up well in most places, striking that balance.

The counterpoint is somewhere like WA, where they are only delaying the inevitable unless Covid disappears or a perfect vaccine is invented.

I don’t think that’s true either. It’s the same terrible “studies” that have been a problem in science for decades, which is why we’re in the middle of a replication crisis. It is emblematic of the problem that there were literally only two randomised control studies on real world mask usage, and of those, only one was in a society that is similar to Australia. And, of course, as the raw data was made public a few weeks ago, we find out there is very little signal despite what was claimed. Given the last two years, the idea that there wouldn’t have been plenty of volunteers to decisively answer the question in is asinine. Cloth masks being nothing more than decoration was obvious by the end of 2020, yet only now is that starting to break through.

Don’t mistake the problems with mask effectiveness because of Omicron compared to previous variants where they were more effective in stopping spread.

Although I would agree with you that the impacts of mask usage have been overhyped in general but that’s also largely to do with the fact that most people don’t know how to use them properly in the first place.

I’m not. The only two real world usage studies I mentioned predate what’s happening now.

Hi Silver,
can you link the studies, I’m interested.

Sure, although I suspect you know them. There was the Nov 2020 Danish study (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33205991/), which was inconclusive and the Nov 2021 Bangladesh study (https://www.poverty-action.org/sites/default/files/publications/Mask_Second_Stage_Paper_20211108.pdf.pdf), which is represented as showing surgical masks have an effect, but cloth masks don’t, and also shows that purple masks are less effective than red masks. It should be noted that a literature review of the effectiveness of masks prior to 2020 generally find little to no effect of mass masking for previously known reparatory diseases. What’s more interesting in this case is the statistical analysis of the Bangladesh study once the raw data was published (http://www.argmin.net/2021/11/23/mask-rct-revisited/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5P8aVDqEY6Q), there’s also this interview with one of the designers of the Bangladesh study (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU4d2GBsz9U) for balance.

Taking a step back, my point here is not to indict these two studies, but rather to point out that two years into this, we literally only have two studies of real world mask usage rather than hundreds. Of these two studies, neither has a strong signal. There are laboratory and observational studies of mask efficacy, which either fall pray to the problem you raise in your first comment, or don’t translate to the real world. It isn’t obvious to me that strapping a mask to a mannequin and spraying it and measuring the result tells you anything valuable about how average people will benefit or not from mask usage. The outcome of unvaccinated rural Bangladesh people from 2020 probably also doesn’t translate to the ACT today.

I also want to say that the replication crisis is something to take seriously when we are discussing the efficacy of various interventions. Here’s a lecture from 2015 discussing the problem (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbf_TXqEY-Y). Basically, if you flip a coin 100 times over and over, the expected value is 50 of each on each set of 100, but we really shouldn’t be surprised if we got 60/40 on one. The problem with many studies is that only the 60/40 cases get published, meaning we think we know things that we actually don’t. That’s probably the underlying cause of the replication crisis.

So, at best we can say that we don’t know if masks are effective, but the signal looks weak, and this is prior to the latest variant. If government is going to mandate usage, then they better have strong evidence they work, and they clearly don’t. A mandate is, however, a button they can push to make it look like they’re doing something. I get the impression that the evidence for all restrictions probably falls into the same bucket, or, at least, doesn’t make it obvious what is being traded off against. For example, a pre-2020 Japanese study into getting people sick with influenza to stay home did have the effect of reducing work place transmission, but also increased the risk of other people in their household of getting sick. (Which is pretty much what we saw during lockdown last year).

There were a few Australians trying to point out that the bigger picture needed to be considered, Zeb Jamrozik being particularly good (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AFRjz6w3DxM), but also people like Gigi Foster (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDgDWaXWeyY). What government has done in Australia is morally egregious, and I will never vote for any sitting member of any parliament ever again.

Thanks Silver,
I have read some of these but not all.

You’re definitely right in that more research is needed in all of these areas, particularly in assessing secondary effects of the various forms of restrictions to assess real world effectiveness.

Science often disappears when governments can see political gain and expediency in their actions.

I find myself waffling back and forth over this being satire. Here you have someone who did it all – the distancing, the isolation, the masks (double, maybe even triple!), the vaccine. But in the end, achieving the same outcome as the person who does none of it.

But the six days of wheezy chest were “really bad”. Gotta save face on those past two years that were lost, I guess.

Alex Stephens2:04 pm 20 Jan 22

Dear Zoya,
Thank you for this article, you are putting into perspective the BS that’s being peddled by vested interests of all persuasions to convince us that this disease is a minor inconvenience.

Yeah it got me as well. I followed every bit of advice, and then some, but it eventually got into my system. My personal view is we have been let down by governments and should not have opened until RAT kits were bountiful and the boosters substantially delivered. I also think they dropped the ball too early on surveillance.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming you are some god-like creature immune from human viruses. You’re not. You assumed having a vaccination would stop you getting it. Wrong. Vaccinations mitigate, not prevent. Washing hands, wearing a mask, hiding in a room or anything else does not give immunity. And why would you sit in a car for three hours feeling rotten, feverish and achy, waiting to do a test that tells you that you are ill? If you are feverish and achy stay home until better. Common sense. We can’t hide from a flu virus. Vaccinations help, but when we get it, we recuperate, build anti-bodies, get over it and have more natural protection against the next one. That’s the way we’re built. What is illuminating about your experience is how little help to expect from the ACT health system, which barely copes at the best of times. Best wishes for a full recovery.

I’d be interested to know exactly what you think the ACT Health system should actually do for these cases?

For the vast majority of people, at home rest and recuperation is all that is required until your immune system gets on top of the virus.

Basic advice on management of symptoms is all that’s required.

For someone extolling “common sense”, what else should Health do?

Alex Stephens1:49 pm 20 Jan 22

Dear Acton,
If common sense was prevalent in this epidemic saga then the the medical fraternity in the ACT , to wit A&E at Canberra hospital would accept your word based on a mediocum of intellect, knowledge of the symptoms as have been rammed down our throats for the past two years, and the fact that you are as sick as a dog in a pandemic, should indicate that on the balance of probabilities, that you have covid and the need for a test should be irrelavent.
This however, has been proven not to be the case, in my recent experience. My spouse was told that perhaps she had pneumonia when she presented with covid symptoms.

Problem with the medical world is balance or probabilities doesn’t cut it. How many times do you read of people who have been diagnosed that way but it ends up being something else that is only discovered after that person has died. Then the medical fraternity is the worst for not diagnosing accurately.

Case in point your wife, let’s assume she really died and it turned out to be pneumonia, would you accept them saying oops on balance of probability we thought she had covid which is why we told her to go home, take a Panadol and get bed rest? Doubt many would.

This is the reason why high risk people can still get PCR tests to confirm a Covid infection. For almost everyone else, it’s nigh on irrelevant.

I don’t disagree for the most part chewy.

Though the person I was replying to was talking about someone visiting a hospital which is a high risk setting rather than high risk person, so I would hope someone who has symptoms of covid were tested going to hospital rather than assuming it is something else and putting everyone else in the hospital who would be high risk persons at risk.

Definitely agree with that, testing in those high risk settings should be a given.

Do what has been the point of this vaccine? The first two don’t work and now Israel had found the 4th booster doesn’t work. How many more times will they require us to inject unknown substances into our body? How long before we rise up to this medical tyranny?

Capital Retro9:27 am 20 Jan 22

You make the statement that it is way worse that you expected and that is acceptable to all of us.

The PM says something similar about the consequences of the COVID pandemic and he is howled down my his detractors (including the media) as incompetent.

Double standard there somewhere.

Not sure that’s the case. Have you got an example?

Capital Retro1:50 pm 20 Jan 22

Obviously you have never read any comments on this blog before.

What makes you think that you necesserily have Omicron?

Whilst the Omicron variant is dominant, Delta hasn’t disappeared. Without sequencing, which almost certainly wasn’t done, you will never know for certain.

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