Virus hits young, fit too: ‘I thought I was going to die’
A fit 41-year-old only just surfacing from the fight of his life against COVID-19 has warned young people who believe the killer bug was only a threat to the elderly how "I thought I was going to die".
Derek Aitken said he was so badly knocked out by coronavirus for eight days that his family members also asked whether he would survive.
His disturbing story comes as new statistics reveal the highly contagious virus has afflicted 50 Australians under the age of 20, including three infants under the age of four.
Most cases have predominantly been among people under the age of 50.
The freelance event producer experienced burning fevers and cold sweats three days after a weekend celebrating a 40th birthday party in the NSW-Victoria border town of Albury, but simply put it down to being run down.
Twenty four hours later his symptoms escalated with a persistent dry cough, constant shortness of breath and a restricted chest.
"I flew back to LA where I now live and got tested and the doctor rang three days later and said 'you've got the coronavirus'," he said.
"It was an agonising wait and was such a shock to be told I had it as I am really healthy, I eat clean and go to the gym six times a week.
"I was confined to bed sweating and barely able to walk with muscle and joint pain. The sheets were drenched.
"It felt like glass was in my lungs every time I took a breath."
Mr Aitken, who originally came from New Zealand and spent 14 years in Australia until his move Stateside said the rapid deterioration in his condition had him experiencing "dark thoughts".
"At one point I thought about the will stuck in the back of the cabinet but I was too weak to mention it to anyone and thought if I didn't make it through the night someone would find it," he said.
"There were days I went to bed and didn't think I would get up the next morning.
"My partner would bring food into the room wearing masks and gloves to ensure I ate but I lost my sense of taste and smell.
"I watched Netflix when I had the energy but the rest of the time I just slept and did Vick's VapoRub face steams to try to breathe."
Mr Aitken survived on soup, liquids and Panadol and paracetamol.
On day nine the virus suddenly left his body and the fevers and aches disappeared but his shortness of breath remained as a painful reminder.
"This virus takes hold really quickly - within 24 hours I had deteriorated and couldn't breathe," he said.
"It was so frightening - my sister who FaceTimed me thought I was going to die."
He said he narrowly escaped being put on a ventilator but said his terrifying experience should be a cautionary tale for younger people who think their age and relative health offer any kind of defence to the virus.
"Younger people are getting it and fit people are getting it. I got away lightly and didn't need ventilators - but the symptoms are different and vary in severity from person to person.
"What's worrying is you can have it and don't know you're passing it to others."
The majority of coronavirus cases - 56 per cent - in Australia have occurred among people under the age of 50.
Even though the elderly are at greater risk of dying from the virus only 10 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Australia have been among people aged over 70.
All of the people who have died from coronavirus in Australia have been older than 70 years.
More than one in five of those aged under 80 who get the virus are likely to die.
NSW Health confirmed 27 of the state's 874 COVID-19 cases - 3 per cent - were under the age of 20.
"It's now day 13 and I'm waiting for the doctors to give me the all clear," Mr Aitken said. "I've come out the other end, there were dark thoughts that's for sure.
"All my friends and family in Australia are now in self- isolation because I caught the virus. Just realise anyone can get it. The virus is changing all the time."
Australian Medical Association NSW president Dr Kean-Seng Lim also urge young people not to under estimate the risk of contracting the virus.
"COVID-19 can and does kill young people as well," he said.
"Some of the sickest patients we've had in NSW have been younger people.
"If you look at Italy and the US and England we are seeing intensive care units with young people in them."
New research from China, where the virus began, showed that more than 2000 children contracted COVID-19 in one region with 125 developing very serious illness. One 14-year-old boy died from coronavirus.
More than 60 per cent of those children who became severely ill in China were aged younger than five and infants under 12 months were also likely to get very sick.
In the US, 705 of its 46,145 cases were among those aged 20 to 24. Another 3 per cent of those hospitalised with coronavirus in the US were aged under 19.
Originally published as Virus hits young, fit too: 'I thought I was going to die'