Through Wednesday, April 8, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health had confirmed more than 7,000 cases of COVID-19, with the majority of infections among those 41-65 years old.
Although many of the most severe cases and deaths are seniors, the reality is a large group of people with coronavirus are young or middle-aged. Such is the case of Diana, a 45-year-old resident of the Northeast Valley who, after being misdiagnosed, went on to unknowingly infect her two daughters, her son-in-law and the mother of her son-in-law. She also exposed several doctors and nurses who treated her.
First Told She Had Stomach Flu
Diana’s problems began March 9, when she began to suffer nausea, and severe migraine headaches that came and went constantly.
“I felt like my head was going to explode,” she said.
By March 13, feeling overwhelmed by the headaches and nausea that would not let her eat, Diana decided to go to a hospital, where the doctor who examined her said it was a “stomach flu.”
The American Journal of Gastroenterology has reported that digestive problems, particularly diarrhea, can be the first clue in a “unique sub-group” of patients infected with COVID-19, but don’t show the other more well-known warning signs such as coughing, sneezing and respiratory problems.
These patients may only later (sometimes never) go on to develop respiratory problems and fever. They’re also diagnosed later than other patients, meaning they could unwittingly spread the virus.
The doctor prescribed Diana medicine for the headaches and sent her home. The next day, the migraines intensified and Diana returned to the emergency room.
This time the diagnosis was influenza or possibly meningitis but no other tests were done, even when they noticed she was burning up with a fever of 102.9 degrees.
“They gave me an IV infusion,” she said, and after a while they sent her home again and prescribed Tamiflu and Imitrex.
But the medications had no effect.
“I was still having headaches and fever for three days,” Diana said.
She also started coughing.
By March 17, things had gotten worse.
“I was short of breath,” Diana said. She told her daughter to take her back to the hospital, but upon arrival (when they couldn’t find a wheelchair) and seeing her condition, Diana was denied entry because she had symptoms of coronavirus.
“They wanted me to wait in the car until a doctor came to check on me,” she recalls. “But I couldn’t walk anymore because I was short of breath.”
She was quickly connected to an oxygen tank, and then taken to the emergency room even though the medical staff there still felt Diana had the flu.
An EKG (electrocardiogram) test was performed and X-rays were taken. When the results came back, “[that’s] when they took everyone out of the room,” Diana said. “They told me, ‘the X-rays show fluid in your lungs, you might be a candidate for the coronavirus.’”
Without wasting time, the doctors and nurses who had been treating her without any protection put on masks and other kinds of preventive equipment. They finally did a COVID-19 exam and sent it to county health officials, indicating it would take 2-3 days for the results.
Three days later, without having received the results, hospital officials carried out two more coronavirus tests of their own, both of which were negative.
They told her it was possibly pneumonia. Diana was given antibiotics, a portable oxygen tank and sent home. But there were no other restrictions.
She remained concerned about the possibility of having the coronavirus (COVID-19). “I decided to quarantine because everything I saw and heard, I had those symptoms,” Diana said.
It wasn’t until March 26 that Diana received confirmation from doctors that the first test done March 17, and sent to county health officials showed a positive result for COVID-19. By then, Diana’s 13-year-old and 22-year-old daughters, her 23-year-old son-in-law, and the son-in-law’s mother — a 50-year-old woman who had come to visit — were all infected.
“(My 22-year-old daughter) has been feverish for six days, with body aches and without eating,” Diana said. “But they told her that she can’t have the test because she’s not from the high-risk group and they only gave her antibiotics.”
Her son-in-law spent seven days with a cough, a lot of phlegm and a fever. His mother was in the same condition for nine days.
Many Others Wrongly Test Negative
Diana’s story is not unique.
Medical experts now report that close to 33% of people testing negative for the coronavirus were actually infected and don’t realize it. Experts also note that different coronavirus tests can have different types of “false negative” results.
The problem may be due to the fact that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized 20 tests so far through a rapid validation process, leading to the questions about their efficiency.
It would take a year before a test could receive FDA certification, according to Reuters.
FDA representatives told Reuters it’s critical that tests work, as false results can contribute to the spread of COVID-19. And, as in Diana’s case, if a patient tests negative but later develops more symptoms, they could unknowingly spread the virus.
Diana said she doesn’t know where she got it. She suspects two co-workers, who were away for several days with high fevers earlier in March before she got sick. Her son-in-law works at a gas station and could have brought the disease home. And like everyone else, she was going to various stores buying groceries and supplies before she started to feel bad.
She regrets having misdiagnoses that exposed her family to the disease.
“I infected my family without wanting to,” she said. “The hospital must pay attention and take patients seriously when they arrive with these symptoms.”
Diana is still not fully recovered. She runs out of breath as soon as she goes up to the second floor of the townhome where she’s staying. Although she has not had a fever for several days, stomach problems still persist.
“You’re going to throw up or go to the bathroom,” she said.
Everyone in the family has been through body aches and fatigue that affects them even while talking for a long time, she said. “The pain is horrible, the headaches and body aches. It is completely different from the flu. You don’t want to eat anything and you lose your sense of taste.”
She says she’s lost 20 pounds since becoming ill. She emphasizes that COVID-19 is indeed as serious as experts warn.
“It’s not a game,” Diana said. “It is very painful and it is something you must take seriously and does not discriminate. In my house, people between the ages of 13 and 50 became ill.
“The fever doesn’t go down for less than five days and you get to the point where you feel tired of being sick.”
No More Restrictions on seeking Coronavirus Test
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced that any Los Angeles County resident, not just people at greatest risk for COVID-19, can apply for a test. Prior to the announcement, only Los Angeles residents 65 years and older, or with underlying health conditions or showing symptoms of COVID-19 could apply for the tests.
Test results are coming back within two to three days from the county’s labs, Garcetti said.
The county has opened drive-thru testing locations, including:
— Hansen Dam Park, at the corner of Osborne Street and Dronfield Avenue;
— Northridge Hospital Medical Center, 18460 Roscoe Blvd. in Northridge, CA 91325 (enter on Reseda Boulevard).
Testing is by appointment only. Walk-up appointments are not available. People can apply for testing at coronavirus.lacity.org/testing or covid19.lacounty.gov/testing.