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Fit, healthy 33-year-old recounts falling ill to coronavirus

Andrea Napoli, 33, takes a selfie in a hotel being used for patients recovering from the coronavirus, in Rome, on March 29, 2020. (Andrea Napoli via AP)

ROME (AP) -- Andrea Napoli didn't fit the usual profile of a coronavirus patient.

    At 33, he was in perfect health, with no history of respiratory disease. And he was in top physical shape, thanks to regular workouts, including water polo training.

    Still, Napoli, a lawyer in Rome, developed a cough and fever less than a week after Italy's premier locked down the entire nation, including the capital which had continued life as usual while the virus raged in the north. Until that day, Napoli was following his routine of work, jogging and swimming.

    He received a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 three days later.

    Initially, Napoli was told to quarantine at home with the warning that his condition could deteriorate suddenly, and it did. By the next day, he was hospitalized in intensive care, with X-rays confirming he had developed pneumonia.

    ''Unfortunately, you have to live these things to really understand them totally,'' Napoli said in a Skype interview. ''I am 33 years old, in great health, and I found myself suddenly in less than a day and a half in intensive care.''

    For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

    Napoli spent the next nine days breathing with an oxygen mask. During two days in intensive care, three patients in his ward died. He recalled that doctors were out of breath from pushing equipment around, dressed in protective masks, suits and gloves, and exhausted from the long hours and strain.

    ''What I saw was a lot, a lot of pain. It was very hard,'' Napoli said. ''I heard screams from the other rooms. The constant coughing from the other rooms.''

    After another week on a COVID-19 ward, he was moved Friday to a hotel being used for patients recovering from the virus, where he is checked twice a day by a doctor. He still can't breathe properly and oxygen levels in his blood haven't yet returned to normal.

    ''I get tired very easily,'' he said. ''If I simply go from the toilet to the bed, I get out of breath. My muscles hurt because I was actually in bed for nine days, without the possibility of moving. So it wasn't very simple.''

    Napoli's first concern when the virus struck Italy was for his parents, in their mid-60s, never himself. With two weeks of quarantine still ahead, he is looking forward to the day he can go out for a simple walk with them -- something that is still not allowed under Italy's strict containment measures.

    Authorities on Sunday expressed cautious optimism that the measures were having an impact two weeks on. The number of positive cases in the previous 24 hours increased by just 5.4%, to a total of 97,689. Significantly, the number of patients in intensive care nationwide rose by just 50, less than half of recent days, to 3,906, and the number of deaths are on a downward trend of about 10% a day since Friday, to 756 reported Sunday. Italy still has the most deaths of any country, now at 10,779.

    ''These are big changes, that reflect the fact the health system is responding and of the impact of the measures that have been put in place,'' said Dr. Luca Richeldi, a lung specialist, told the daily civil protection agency briefing. ''We are saving lives by staying at home, by maintaining social distance, by traveling less and by closing schools.''

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