Photo David Ingram

Asthma, rheumatism, or Crohn’s disease

For these students, corona poses a real risk

When young people get infected with the coronavirus, they just get a mild flu. Right? But what if they have asthma or diabetes? ‘If I get infected, that could get ten times worse.’

Thijs Fens

Door Thijs Fens

19 March om 10:58 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 25 March 2020
om 13:29 uur.
Thijs Fens

By Thijs Fens

March 19 at 10:58 AM.
Last modified on March 25, 2020
at 13:29 PM.
Thijs Fens

Thijs Fens

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Freelance journalist
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When young people get infected with the coronavirus, they just get a mild flu. Right? But what if they have asthma or diabetes? ‘If I get infected, that could get ten times worse.’

Leonie van Baardwijk (20) fears corona. Don’t you dare tell her that ‘it’s not that bad’, or ‘it’s just a mild flu’. Leonie has asthma, which means she has a good reason to be ‘pretty afraid’. ‘It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy’, she says. ‘My lungs are pretty crappy to begin with and when I get upset, they get even worse.’

The student of Dutch language takes medication to keep her lungs clear. ‘But if I were to get corona, I’d get really ill. The worst-case scenario is that I get severe pneumonia and end up in intensive care.’ She’s also worried about her father. ‘He’s really sick and is currently in a rehabilitation centre. If I got corona and infected him, I’d never forgive myself.’

Tense times

Anne Ruth Albert (24) also has asthma. On top of that, she suffers from a form of rheumatism, which means her immune system is weak. The media studies master student isn’t afraid to get infected, but it does occupy her mind. ‘When the virus was first confirmed to be in Europe, I started reading a lot about it. I’m always up to date on what’s going on. My asthma already causes shortness of breath, but if I get infected that would get ten times worse. These are tense times.’

I am constantly up to date and keep a close eye on everything

A 23-year-old pre-master student of law, who’d prefer to remain anonymous, agrees with Anne Ruth. She, too, is part of the high-risk group. She has Crohn’s disease and takes medication that suppress her immune system. Like Leonie and Anne Ruth, she’s not actually more likely to get corona, but if she gets it, she has a much bigger chance of getting ill. Bigger than other people her age, anyway.

She wasn’t much worried about it, until she saw prime minister Mark Rutte’s speech last Thursday. ‘It made me feel very uncertain. Since more and more people are getting it, the chance that I’ll get it increases. That makes it a little scary.’

Similar lives

Right now, the three students are living similar lives, doing everything they can to keep their distance from the virus. This means they barely leave the house. ‘I only go out to get groceries’, says Leonie. ‘I’ve also stopped meeting up with friends. It’s too bad, but needs must.’

She works at BelSimpel, but she doesn’t feel safe to go into work. ‘I can’t work from home in my job. I’d rather just not go into work at all, then. Fortunately, my supervisors understand.’ Leonie has tried to find replacements. ‘Fortunately, many colleagues were willing to take over my shifts.’

The anonymous pre-master student of law is also being a lot more cautious than ‘healthy’ students. ‘I mainly stay home. I’ve asked people close to me to be extra alert because of my illness.’

She’s currently working from home and foregoes seeing her friends. ‘But I talk to them on social media a lot.’ She’s fortunate to live alone, which means she doesn’t have to worry about roommates. ‘I’m really glad for that.’

Staying inside

Anne Ruth also lives alone in an apartment and is staying inside. To be on the safe side, she picked up extra asthma medication from her pharmacy. ‘I’ve got three big deadlines to meet over the next few weeks, so I’ve got plenty to do.

My friends are all hanging out. That’s a bummer

She’s a bit annoyed with her friends, though. ‘They’re all hanging out together. Having game nights at each other’s houses. I can’t do anything like that. That’s a bummer Instead, I ordered two new games for my Nintento Switch.’

Leonie knows she runs the risk of getting bored. ‘At least I live with my boyfriend. I’ve also still got a lot to read for my studies, but I can’t keep that up forever.’

What to do? ‘I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew, so I’m going to get started on that. I’ve got no fabric, though, so I’ll have to go get some. Or I’ll send my boyfriend.’ I hope the fabric store is still open.’