Medical workers in protective suits attend to novel coronavirus patients inside an isolated ward at a hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 6, 2020. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: A 20-year-old from Kerala living in Wuhan, China, who was among the first three reported coronavirus cases in India, has shared her story of what it’s like to survive COVID-19 in an exclusive interview with Gulf News. She was diagnosed a week after leaving Wuhan upon her return to India.

From Wuhan to Kunming, and then to India

We took the high speed train from Wuhan to Kunming when government announced the lockdown.

“I am a third-year medical student at Wuhan Medical College and we had just finished our semester exams on January 20. We had a Chinese New year break and I was planning to chill out and stay back in Wuhan. Until the week before we finished our exams, there was no alarming news of the viral outbreak.

We were being careful, there were regular temperature check-ups at the university and we were using masks and hand sanitisers but life was pretty normal. So after exams got over a bunch of my friends, all from Kerala decided to return home for two weeks. We were booked on a flight from Wuhan to Kunming and Kungming in Yunan Province to Calcutta and from Calcutta to Kochi for January 23-24.

The city was not under lockdown but we got a message on the phone that the government would stop all public transport and flights out of Wuhan. So early morning, before that deadline we left Wuhan by train to Kunming, took the flight to Calcutta and then to Kochi on January 24. I had a phone message from the Indian embassy to report to the nearest medical hospital on arrival at Kochi airport, which I did. They took our temperatures and again there was no sign of any infection.

Self quarantine followed by a sore throat and cough

Being a medical student after I arrived in my village in Thrissur, I was careful to impose self-quarantine at home. I was wearing a mask and following all protocols and reporting to the local hospital in my village for temperature checks as per the Indian embassy advisory.

On January 27, I had a sore throat and cough for the first time and I immediately alerted the authorities and was asked to go the General Hospital in Thrissur. When I went there, I still did not have temperature and they started me on antibiotics. They took a blood sample and throat swab and sent it to the National Institute of Virology, Pune. There were four candidates there under quarantine whose samples were sent. The other three were cleared in 48 hours and discharged, only my result was pending. By then I had developed slight fever.

The result came in positive on January 30, nearly a week after I left Wuhan.

Testing postive for COVID-19 did not scare me

I was not afraid of the virus as I was hardly showing any symptoms.

As a medical student I knew that the virus could be debilitating for those in advanced age and with other co-morbidities. On January 31, I was quarantined at the Thrissur Medical College Hospital and started on a five-day course of the anti-viral medicine, Oseltamivir IP 75 mg.

I had no diet restrictions or anything. I continued in quarantine until February 20 and was tested every alternate day. A blood, urine, stool sample and nasal or throat swab was taken and samples sent to the NIV Pune. After testing negative for nearly a week I was declared free of COVID-19 and have returned home, resumed normal life.

We are having online classes from our university in Wuhan and I hope to return to college once the outbreak subsides. I will graduate in 2023.

My advice to others: Stop fearing the virus, be disciplined and seek medical help immediately

I am strong, healthy, active and look forward to my course and life. I have heard so much about Dubai, some day, once the COVID-19 outbreak subsides, I would love to visit the UAE.

- 20-year-old medical student from Kerala, who recovered from the COVID-19 infection

Now that I am virus free and have the antibodies to protect me from the infection, I intend to tell people to quit being afraid of COVID-19. If you have a travel history or are coming down with respiratory infection, please report immediately to your local hospital. Being pro-active and following protocols will help you combat this.

In my case, because I reported early and started treatment, none of my family members – my parents, friends or the people I travelled with on the plane siblings contracted it because I was observing all prootcols and practising self-quarantine at home. The only other person who contracted the virus was my classmate from Wuhan, a resident of Alappuzha district who also recovered.

“I am strong, healthy, active and look forward to my course and life. I have heard so much about Dubai, some day, once the COVID-19 outbreak subsides, I would love to visit the UAE.”

Taking a leaf out of the Kerala experience

Dr Anup Warrier,

Dr Anup Warrier, Senior Consultant – Infection Control at Aster Hospitals in India told Gulf News: “So far the three things in our [Kerala's] favour was the very robust medical system in the state, the experience of all hospital staff in immediate isolation, infection control and capacity building going by our previous experience of Nipah virus and third is our very effective mass education and communication system. Our health officials are very transparent, they move fast to quell any fear mongering and rumour spreading attempts and have kept the public updated on all the developments on the Covid 19 front.”

Dr Warrier added that while in case of other outbreaks people fell sick and had to be hospitalised with ventilator and ICU facilties, in case of COVID-19 most young people had mild infections and recovered quickly without any ventilation or ICU confinement.

“All three patients from ground zero in Wuhan recovered, but the danger in this is the fact that those with milder infections do not get hospitalised and might be spreading the infection easily. This virus is virulent and infection spreads rapidly.

"As of now of the six people in Kerala, one is the three-year-old child and the other three too have a travel history to Italy. The remaining two contracted the virus from the three adults who had travelled to Italy. So far the infection is contained. But now these six people have been in touch with about 3000 people and the challenge remains in tracing all of those who had primary or secondary contact to these original six.

"The health care officials are retracing all those who may have been in contact in effort to contain the spread.”