SASKATOON -- A Saskatoon pharmacist is urging people to take COVID-19 seriously after he contracted the virus in late March and says he is still experiencing symptoms eight months later.

“I’ve been off work now five months and I have no idea when I’ll be fit to go back,” Cordell Hilderman said.

“It’s the cognitive issues that I’m having that are the biggest concern and I do wonder sometimes, am I going to be a candidate for early dementia?”

Hilderman, who is 48 years old, said he experienced mild to moderate symptoms while he was infected, including ongoing fatigue, cough, shortness of breath, joint pain, and loss of taste and smell.

Once he recovered, he gradually returned to work in early April but said he started experiencing symptoms again in mid-May after a strenuous work week.

Hilderman said he lost his sense of smell again and his fatigue returned, causing him to need to take two-hour long naps in the afternoon in order to get through the day.

He also started to notice gaps in his memory and finds it hard to do activities like playing cards and even keeping up conversation.

“I have trouble finding words to say in a conversation, which I never had that problem before ... It feels like real mental exertion just to talk to somebody,” he said.

Hilderman has been retested for COVID-19 but said his results came back negative.

He said his doctors have diagnosed him with post-viral fatigue but he’s still searching for answers.

“Aside from re-testing me, they didn’t really have anything else to offer me. So, it was obvious that they weren’t set up to handle any kind of chronic issues that might come up as a result of COVID.”

Last month, Hilderman posted to Twitter in hopes of connecting with other long haulers and encouraging more research to be done on the issue.

“Social media has been helpful for finding out information. Right now we don’t have very good evidence — it’s all anecdotal, so that’s what we have to go on. So, social media does help facilitate that,” he said.

In the post, Hilderman thanked COVID-19 advocacy groups such as Body Politic, Survivor Corps and COVID Long Haulers Support Group Canada for bringing awareness to people with long-term symptoms.

Hilderman said the U.K. and the U.S. seem to be leading the charge when it comes to research on long haulers. He said his hope is that the Canadian and provincial governments will follow.

“That’s the start is just finding out how many of us are there and if we don’t, there’s a chance that we could really be slammed with all these chronic patients that we don’t have the resources for.”

Infectious disease expert Jason Kindrachuk said the problem with many infectious diseases is that the effects sometimes extend beyond the point when a person is considered infectious.

“We’ve certainly seen this with a number of other diseases, Ebola in particular we see people that years later, still have these kind of longer term health complications,” he said.

This is an area Kindrachuk is researching in his role as Canada Research Chair at the University of Manitoba. He and his team are studying people in Africa who got Ebola to see how it has effected them long-term.

Kindrachuk said the hope is to draw a parallel between those patients and the ones who are experiencing ongoing COVID-19 symptoms.

As of right now, he said the research on COVID long haulers is very limited.

According to Kindrachuk, one of the challenges is that people of all ages have come forward with lasting symptoms and their issues seem to vary from mental cloudiness to breathing issues.

“They don’t fit uniquely into this one little spectrum where we can say ‘okay, this is exactly what we need to target.’ And the problem for us is we’re learning about this in real time.”

While Kindrachuk said he empathizes with patients who are left with little answers, his advice is for them to continue sharing their experiences with medical officials.

“Being able to inform us now on where to maybe shift some research priorities, I think is paramount to us being able to better understand how to support and care for these patients of the long-term,” he said.

As for Hilderman, he said he wants to get back to the life he had before.

“I was a full-time pharmacy manager and it was busy, busy with kids’ activities. I was coaching curling which I can’t do anymore because of this. It’s been tough for my family to just see the condition that I’m in.”

Until then, he is urging everyone to be cautious and to take COVID-19 seriously.

“It’s a tough time for everyone. We need to remember our neighbours, we need to pull together and we need to follow the experts’ advice.”