If you think you can't get seriously ill from COVID-19 because you're young and healthy, think again. That's the message a 22-year-old Winnipeg man is trying to get across by sharing his story about the illness that put him in hospital for nine days.
"You're not invincible just because you're healthy, just because you work out," said Peter Soliman, a psychology major at the University of Manitoba.
Soliman tested positive for the B117 variant in March. He said he doesn't have any underlying health conditions. Prior to contracting the virus, he had been careful about following guidelines and didn't have contact with many people other than his family, he said.
"People I don't think realize how serious this really is, and with the third wave it has multiple variants," Soliman said.
Following his stay at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, he shared his experience on social media and has received hundreds of comments. While some of the comments have been negative, most have been positive he said.
"A lot of people have said 'this is a wake-up call,' [and] 'this is what we needed,' [and] 'thank you for sharing your story,'" he said. "People's feedback has just been amazing, so I'm just hoping that this does make a difference."
In mid-March, Soliman's father learned he had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 at his work, and then tested positive himself. Soliman, as well as his mom and sister tested negative at first, but days later his mom became ill.
The family had already been isolating, as directed by public health officials, when Soliman first showed signs of the illness on March 17. His next test came back positive soon after.
"The first seven to eight days we were all experiencing COVID symptoms, so just normal ones, fever, severe muscles aches … chills," said Soliman.
"We were kind of thinking, 'maybe we'll get better now soon,' and things just started to go way more downhill from there."
The family was told early on that their tests showed they had contracted a coronavirus variant of concern — which was later revealed to be the B117 variant, a strain first identified in the United Kingdom.
The number of confirmed variant cases in Canada has skyrocketed in recent weeks, rising from about 2,000 a month ago to close to 17,000 this week and counting, with more than 90 per cent of those being the B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
As of Saturday, 412 variant cases had been detected in Manitoba, and B117 was the dominant variant.
Of those 412 cases, 27 people were hospitalized and 12 were admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) according to provincial data. About half of those who ended up in hospital were under the age of 60.
'More young people infected'
Because of the higher severity of the new variants, young people are being disproportionately affected now, said Dr. Peter Juni, director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which looked at hospitalizations and deaths in Ontario between December and March. The new variants are 40 to 50 per cent more transmissible than previous strains, Juni said. They can increase the risk of hospitalization by about 60 per cent, and double the risk of ICU admission, he said.
"Right now what you just see is the tip of the iceberg," Juni said. "We have more young people infected, and since the severity is higher, more people all of a sudden end up in hospital.
"This is basically the variants taking hold and the only way to deal with that now is to really very strongly restrict indoor spaces," he said.
'A very scary time'
Soliman's mother was the first to be admitted to hospital. Then, after about a week of feeling extremely sick and suffering high fevers, the 22-year-old was also hospitalized after his oxygen levels became dangerously low.
"My body was feeling like it was running a marathon every day, it was tiring," said Soliman. "It just felt like I wasn't myself … [it was] so exhausting to just do normal things," he said.
After a few days, Soliman's dad was also hospitalized after his airway became blocked and he stopped breathing.
Soliman's sister, who is a nurse and already had her first vaccine dose, did not become ill. She tested negative multiple times, despite living in the same home and caring for her family while they were ill.
Soliman credits her for keeping a close eye on his oxygen levels and for saving his dad when his airway was blocked.
Soliman said his stay in hospital was difficult. He didn't have the energy to get up, even to go to the bathroom, he said. He was given oxygen and at one point doctors told him if he didn't show improvement he would need to go to the ICU.
"The first five to six days were pretty horrible, I was very bed-bound, not a lot of movement, like it was very exhausting, and then right after the sixth day I just started to improve," he said.
"It was very hard, I don't wish it upon anybody, to be honest."
He said he was worried about his parents, but being able to share a hospital room with his mother helped.
'Keep your distance and keep all the rules'
Soliman was released from hospital earlier this month. He said he hopes by sharing his story he is helping others understand how severe the illness can be.
"I really hope that people don't cut down on the rules now and try to go back to normal," he said. "I think this is a time where you need to hold on tight and just keep your circle closed. Keep your distance and keep all the rules."
For several weeks health officials across Canada have been saying infection rates and also ICU admission rates have been climbing among young adults.
Soliman's parents have also been released from hospital and the family is slowly adjusting to being at home and trying to get their strength back.
Soliman is back at work and trying to catch up on the school work he missed while he was sick. He said his story can serve as a reminder to other young people to not to let their guard down.
"Everyone is different … thank God I'm here, I'm recovering and I'm hoping that there's no long term effects, others might not get that chance."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holly Caruk is a video journalist with CBC Manitoba. She began her career as a photo journalist in 2007 and began reporting in 2015. Born and raised in Manitoba, Holly is a graduate of the University of Manitoba's film studies program and Red River College's creative communications program. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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