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Long Covid: Lena Dunham reveals the long-lasting effects coronavirus has had on her body

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Lauren Geall
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Lena Dunham

In a new Instagram post, actress, writer and producer Lena Dunham spoke openly about the long-lasting effects Covid-19 has had on her body, and appealed to her followers to take the “appropriate measures” to protect themselves and those around them.

One of the scariest things about Covid-19 is how little we know about it. Outside of the key identifying symptoms (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste), doctors are still learning about the effect the virus has on the human body in both the short and long term.

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about a phenomenon called “long Covid,” which continues to puzzle doctors across the world. Defined by the British Medical Journal as “illness in people who have either recovered from Covid-19 but are still reporting lasting effects of the infection or have had the usual symptoms for far longer than would be expected,” long Covid has left some of those who contracted the virus back in March or April with long-lasting symptoms such as fatigue and joint pain.

And the scariest bit about long Covid is doctors don’t know whether or not these long-lasting symptoms are signs of permanent damage to a sufferer’s health.

One person to have experienced the effects of long Covid is Lena Dunham, who took to Instagram over the weekend to share her experiences with the virus. Speaking about the reality of being diagnosed with Covid-19 back in March, Dunham – who has since experienced a number of long-lasting effects – used her story to send an important message to those failing to take the virus seriously and acting like the pandemic is “over”.

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“I’ve been reluctant to share this, having written and rewritten it anxiously,” she wrote. 

“I don’t want to unnecessarily add my voice to a noisy landscape on such a challenging topic, as an unfathomable number of people have lost their lives to Covid-19 – a phrase we didn’t even know in January.

“But seeing the carelessness with which so many in the United States are treating social distancing, people jogging without masks and parties on Instagram, I feel compelled to be honest about the impact this illness has had on me, in the hopes that personal stories allow us to see the humanity in what can feel like abstract situations.”

Going on to explain how coronavirus can “alter the bodies and lived experiences of so many who are in infected,” Dunham spoke openly about her experience with the virus in mid-March; her symptoms included “achy joints,” “a fever of 102” and “a hacking cough, like a metronome keeping time” among others. But even after she tested negative with the virus a month later, Dunham explained how many of her symptoms were still present.

“My symptoms weren’t gone – I had swollen hands and feet, an unceasing migraine and fatigue that limited my every move,” she wrote. “Even as a chronically ill person, I had never felt this way. The doctor determined I was suffering from clinical adrenal insufficiency – my pituary gland had almost entirely ceased to function – as well as “status migrainosis” (in human terms, a migraine that just won’t stop).

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“My arthiritis flared and required an immune-modulator drug that is hard on my body. And there are weirder symptoms that I’ll keep to myself. To be clear, I did NOT have these particular issues before I got sick with this virus and doctors don’t yet know enough about Covid-19 to be able to tell me why exactly my body responded this way or what my recovery will look like.”

She continued: “The serious long-term health consequences of a Covid-19 infection are something doctors are learning more about every hour. We have never moved this fast in medicine – we’ve never had to – and experts are doing some incredible work with containment and prevention. But we don’t yet understand the long term impact of this illness on people’s bodies and minds.”

Concluding her post, Dunham appealed to her followers to take the virus – and the measures designed to stop it spreading – seriously. 

Lena Dunham
Long Covid: Lena Dunham says she is still experiencing symptoms of coronavirus months after her initial infection.

“This isn’t like passing the flu to your co-worker,” Dunham said. “This is the biggest deal in our country, and in the world right now. When you take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your neighbours, you save them a world of pain. You save them a journey that nobody deserves to take, with a million outcomes we don’t yet understand, and a million people with varying resources and varying levels of support who are not ready for this tidal wave to take them.”

Dunham concluded: “It is critical we are all sensible and compassionate at this time… because, there is truly no other choice.”

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Although it can be scary to read about experiences like Dunham’s, it’s a vital reminder that reducing the spread of coronavirus isn’t just about protecting the old and vulnerable; the virus can be damaging to everyone, so it’s imperative that we do everything in our power to try and protect ourselves and those around us.

By washing our hands, wearing a mask and abiding by social distancing guidelines, we’re doing our bit to protect the health and future of those around us – what better reason could we have for following the rules? 

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