From a blocked nose to a ‘headache from hell’: The many symptoms of coronavirus

From a blocked nose to a ‘headache from hell’: The many symptoms of coronavirus
Chef Emily Robertson said 'terrible sneezing and coughing and headaches' continued for seven days. (Photo: Supplied)

At this stage of the pandemic, many South Africans have already caught Covid-19 once, if not two or three times. Despite this, there is little consistency when it comes to the duration and nature of the illness. For some, it is a paltry sniffle. For others, it is an ongoing ordeal.

Sanelisiwe Ntabeni, a 32-year-old mother living in Cape Town, tested positive for Covid-19 in mid-December. For two weeks, she was plagued with constant flu-like symptoms, including a phlegmy cough and blocked nose.

“I was very, very tired. I relied on energy drinks just to survive the day,” she said. Even now, a month later, she has intermittent bouts of coughing. 

Ntabeni is fully vaccinated – a factor her doctor said mitigated the severity of her symptoms. Her mother, who also caught Covid-19 over Christmas, has not yet had the vaccine.

“I was able to do everything while at home, get up and work and do all that stuff. My mom, on the other hand, was bedridden,” she said. 

In contrast to Ntabeni’s experience, Alex Kedian, another local, has not had any lingering tiredness or effects since his bout of Covid-19. He picked up the infection at a New Year’s Eve “celebration-slash-braai” and displayed symptoms for about five days.

“It was really hot on Monday, but I was still feeling cold,” said Kedian. Other symptoms included a sore throat and a “headache from hell”.

Kedian received his first vaccine dose in December 2021. “I had not had Covid before, this was the first time, and boy, oh boy would I not recommend it,” he said. 

At first, Emily Robertson, a Cape Town-based chef, didn’t realise that the symptoms she was displaying were Covid-related. After taking off work due to feeling ill, she was contacted by a family member who had tested positive just after Christmas. 

“So, I went for a test considering I was feeling ill – and yes, the test came out positive,” she said, adding that her symptoms during the first week were quite severe.

“Towards the end of that first day I thought I was having a severe allergy attack, because I’m quite allergic to pollen and stuff, and I was working with a lot of vegetables from the garden,” said Robertson. “So, terrible sneezing and coughing and headaches, and then those kinds of symptoms continued for the next seven days.”

Another Capetonian, who chose to remain anonymous for reasons of privacy, saw her whole family catch Covid-19 over the festive season. 

“In our family – family in the States, Netherlands, and Germany, and in South Africa – we all were sick at the same time,” she said. 

She attributed the phenomenon to it being “that time of year”, marked by traditions such as Christmas plans and shopping.

“I remember last year, this time also, just within my work environment – the amount of people that all got ill exactly from Christmas onwards was terrible. I was hearing nearly every day of another case,” she said. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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