I am anaemic and at higher risk of getting Covid-19 – this is how I’m keeping safe

Fulufhelo Ramotsatsi PHOTO: Supplied to DRUM
Fulufhelo Ramotsatsi PHOTO: Supplied to DRUM

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This week I was going through Twitter –not the greatest place to be getting my news these days – when I saw a tweet about how people with anaemia were more at risk of not surviving the coronavirus should they test positive. I went through the thread and found people like me panicking and talking about how they put reminders to take iron tablets.

I think did my own research and found this to be true.

Luckily for me, I never forget to take my medication so I felt protected by that, but my fear really set in when I realised I’d have less chance of surviving should I test positive. As that sank in, I started feeling dizzy as if I were told I was going to pass out.

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According to Dr Mpho Sehunoe, a general practitioner based in Blue Valley, Midrand, anaemia is a low number of red blood cells in one’s blood or low haemoglobin (protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the whole body).

“If your haemoglobin is low, your important organs like the heart, lungs, muscles or brain may not be getting enough oxygen for peak function,” she says.

She adds that anaemia can range from mild to severe with a range of symptoms. The most common causes of anaemia include nutritional deficiencies like iron, vitamin B12 and vitamin A; infectious diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV; and parasitic diseases, bone-marrow and stem-cell problems. Symptoms include dizziness; headache; tiredness/weakness; pale skin; irregular heartbeat; and cold, clammy hands.

Dr Sehunoe says generally when a body is fighting off an infection or new virus it produces a lot of white blood cells and fewer red blood cells. “So anaemic people will have more exaggerated symptoms during any infection as their bodies are already lacking in red blood cells. They experience more pain and fatigue and shortness of breath as their vital organs are oxygen compromised.

“With the coronavirus attacking the respiratory system, the lungs of anaemic people will be more prone to complications.”

 Truth is, I have been taking all the precautionary and preventative measures long before the outbreak but I suddenly find myself obsessing over washing my hands more than I thought I would. And my paranoia got the better of me when I suddenly felt like I should do my laundry more than often because I started thinking of all those people I sat next to in the train and thought maybe if one had it, it’s left on my clothes.

Read more: Time to rethink ideas about exercise, sickle-cell disease?

In 2018, I went to the doctor after I had been having migraines for months and as the doctor was examining me, he said I would have to test for anaemia. I wasn’t surprised. For the longest time I had always suspected I was anaemic but I never saw the necessity of going to check. I mean, I didn’t have any pain so it didn’t matter, really.

I’d always have pale hands and a pale tongue, a very fast heartbeat, but I’d always believe I was nervous about something. And before all this, I’d do different tests but never understood why it took time for blood to come out when I was pricked or injured. I never took it seriously and truth is no one explained to me, and I guess I was too young to even research more about it. The tests came back and the doctor confirmed that I was indeed anaemic.

Dr Sehunoe advises anaemic people to continue complying with taking appropriate iron supplements and vitamin B12 injections; increase intake of iron-rich foods; blood transfusion if necessary, for example people with aplastic anaemia; staying hydrated regularly.

“In haemolytic anaemia, you might need medication that will hold back your immune system and for sickle-cell anaemia, the doctor will prescribe painkillers, antibiotics and oxygen.

“But the mainstay of prevention and protection during this coronavirus pandemic is to follow the hand-sanitation and disinfection guidelines.”

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