UK's coronavirus patient zero tells how her illness baffled doctors

Article By: Martin Bagot Health and Science Correspondent

Joanne Rogers, 51, fell ill with what she thought was flu in late January, before the first cases had been confirmed in the UK.

The first coronavirus patient known to have contracted the disease in Britain has told how she nearly died as her illness mystified medics.

Joanne Rogers, 51, fell ill with what she thought was flu in late January, before the first cases had been confirmed in the UK.

She was rushed to hospital two weeks later, when the authorities still insisted Covid-19 was restricted to a small number of people recently arrived from abroad.

But the virus was already spreading and just over a month later so many were being treated in hospital with the condition that the country was put into lockdown, reports the Daily Record.

Cleaner Joanne is the earliest confirmed case of person-to-person transmission in the UK. Eight months on, she’s still suffering a severe form of long Covid.

Joanne, of Colchester, Essex, had been ill in bed for a fortnight when worried partner Richard Shepherd called NHS 111 for advice on February 15. An ambulance was sent to blue-light Joanna to hospital.

At the time, nine people with Covid-19 were being isolated – mainly Chinese students and a handful of people who came into contact with an infected person at a French ski resort – and the ­Government was hoping to avoid a UK outbreak.

Joanna told our sister paper the Daily Mirror: “I felt a bit of a fraud to have an ambulance coming out for me because I just thought I had the flu.

“One of the last things I remember was going in to resus and joking with the doctor, saying, ‘I’m not going to die am I?’ He said: ‘Not on my shift.’”

Within 24 hours, Joanne was diagnosed with pneumonia and put into an induced coma. It was the start of a gruelling illness from which she still has not recovered.

Joanne had a tracheostomy, in which a tube is inserted into the windpipe just below the vocal cords.

Medics had no idea what was causing such a severe bout of pneumonia and put Joanne on a ventilator to give her a chance to battle the illness.

However, the virus had triggered a huge, potentially fatal overreaction of the body’s immune system.

A small number of drugs have since been shown to help dampen this immune response in Covid-19 patients but at the time doctors were working blind.

Daughter Lauren, 20, said: “Richard would go in to see her every day. He came home one day and told me to sit down. He had been told it was 50/50. He started crying and said, ‘I don’t think your mum is going to make it’. It was devastating.”

Joanne had not recently been abroad and has no idea how she could have caught the virus.

She took no test during her 17-day stay in intensive care. It was only when she was finally given an antibody test in June that medics confirmed she’d had Covid-19.

Prof Francois Balloux of University College London said: “I think this will be the earliest documented confirmed case in the UK. It is quite reasonable to now believe this was circulating in January.

“Back then no one could have predicted what a catastrophe this would be.

“I’m absolutely convinced there will have been quite a few undiagnosed cases.

“It is estimated there were 1400 separate introductions of Covid-19 into the UK.

That’s why in the UK, unlike other countries, there’s really no such thing as a Patient Zero as so many places had it. This made it very difficult to control here.”

Joanne struggles to bend down or walk long distances, relies on a Zimmer frame to get up and suffers anxiety, extreme fatigue and continuous muscle pain.

Her sick pay ended in October and she was turned down for Personal ­Independence Payments as long Covid is not recognised as a disability.

So she has been forced to go back to work but can only manage two hours a day.

She said: “I can still pull myself upstairs using the rail but I walk with difficulty and I get so very tired. I break down in tears at the slightest thing.”


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