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Champagne and COVID By Debbie Cameron

Social distancing in French Vineyards started in 1910.

The Russian Flu, Spanish Flu and Black Plague are compared to COVID19 but the French Champagne Riots of 1910 / 1911 don’t seem to receive any attention, yet they did have devastating effects for farmers in France – ravishing vineyards, destroying the livelihood of farmers as well as significantly decreasing national income.

Between 1910 and 1911 a tiny louse, invisible to the naked eye, called ‘phylloxera’ destroyed 15 000 acres of vineyards of grapes used to make champagne in the Champagne district of France. This vicious microscopic organism infection spread through the vineyards via wind and as a result ‘social distancing’ between the vines was introduced.

Before the phylloxera infection crisis, vineyards were wilder and denser. The lack of structure and space amongst the plants facilitated the quick and easy spread of the louse. The neat rows of vines and organised blocks that you see today was the answer to stop the spread of infestation. Even though on a small scale, this is in some way similar to the infection control rules that the COVID pandemic has brought.

This pandemic is teaching us lessons as it evolves and reminds us of our history. You, a family member or friend who has been through COVID may be suffering with post-acute COVID symptoms, known as Long-COVID of which the three main symptoms include severe breathlessness, fatigue and ‘brain fog’.

A sufferer typically experiences a variety of symptoms which alternate. One sufferer described it like a train going round and round and each carriage is one of the symptoms in the individual’s collection. As the Economist (May 2021) writes “in the short term, it was only right that effort focused on dealing with the acute disease. Today COVID19’s chronic after-effects also need to be considered.”

The latest statistics show that approximately 10% of those who had COVID experience ongoing symptoms. It appears that middle aged women are more likely to suffer with Long-COVID than men. Interestingly, most of those affected were not admitted to hospital in the acute phase.

There are three biological possible explanations, reports the Economist (May 2021) “One is that Long-COVID is a persistent viral infection. A second that it is an autonomic disorder, and the third a consequence of tissue damage caused by inflammation during the initial, acute infection.” These ideas come from the observed patterns of symptoms and various laboratory tests, however, there is little evidence for any of the above. The focus is therefore on how to effectively treat Long-COVID sufferers in regaining their health.

Long-COVID patients struggle with exercise intolerance which causes them to be out of breath and exhausted from small tasks even though there is little frank evidence of lung or heart damage.

Physiotherapist Professor Romy Parker of UCT Pain Management Unit advises a pacing approach to return to normal levels of function and prescribe what is known as ‘Activity Scheduling” and ‘Pesonalised Readjustment to Physical Activity’. These are personal programmes of gradually reintroducing activity on the road to recovery where much care is taken not to provoke or exacerbate the Long-COVID patient’s symptoms. The aim is to slowly build ability to manage more and more physical, emotional and cognitive challenges.

Prof Parker feels that these detailed programmes - with pacing being the key element - are the answer to restore wellbeing. For example, if a person is struggling with severe fatigue they will plan activities with sufficient time for resting before the next activity is embarked on.

The cognitive effect which includes depression, a fuzzy head and memory problems are important to take into consideration. Some people have found help with mindful imagery and other such mental exercises. On consultation with a doctor, it may even require the prescription of anti-depressants to increase serotonin levels. Local doctors in the Upper Highway Area have experienced an increase in patients suffering with depression as a result of suffering from Long-COVID symptoms.

Physiotherapists can help with the often-reported symptoms associated with the autonomics nervous system such as heart palpitations, breathing disorders and dizziness. An assessment will determine if there is any musculoskeletal source to any myalgia or muscle pain. This pain may have origins from altered posture due to the use of oxygen tubes and difficulty with breathing in the early phase of the COVID infection. Correcting breathing patterns is not difficult and requires guided practice, repetition and patience.

Debbie Cameron Physiotherapy, based in Hillcrest and Gillitts, are specialising in a Long-COVID programme which focuses on diet, activity scheduling to assist with fatigue, personalised readjustment to activity which includes exercises to build up strength and endurance, and mental health. If you are still experiencing symptoms (breathlessness, fatigue, muscle pain), some time after contracting COVID, contact the practice on 031 765 8898 to find out more.

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