COVID updates Australia: Melanie died shortly after catching … – 7NEWS

When Sydney healthcare worker Melanie Leffler said goodnight, her loved ones had no idea it would be the last time they would speak to her.
The 39-year-old mother-of-two died in her sleep on November 19, just hours after she tested positive for COVID-19.
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While Melanie’s cause of death is yet to be confirmed by a coroner’s report, her brother Kris Leffler says the family believes it was heart-related.
While dying with COVID does not necessarily mean it is the cause of death, it also does not discount the fact SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes the illness – can affect the heart.
The virus can directly invade the body causing inflammation which can impact the heart and cause myocarditis and pericarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle or outer lining of the heart, University of Sydney medicine professor Garry Jennings said.
This inflammation can also cause blood clotting, which can block a heart or brain artery and cause a heart attack or stroke.
“COVID can also cause abnormal heart rhythms, blood clots in the legs and lungs, and heart failure,” Jennings wrote in The Conversation, adding there is still much to learn about how the virus affects the heart.
Mel’s family has been rocked by her death and want others to know her story, rather than just a number in the statistics of those who have died with the virus.
At least two-thirds of Australians have been infected with the virus since the pandemic began and more than 13,000 people have died with or from COVID by October 31, according to the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Leffler told his sister was one of the “hardest working, goal-oriented, strong-willed women” he has ever had the privilege of knowing.
Leffler said Mel, who worked as a genetic counsellor, was inspired to study medical science by her own bout with illness, Wilms’ tumour – a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children.
“She suffered from the age of 12 months, which left her with only one kidney, followed by 18 months of chemotherapy, and achieved full remission by seven years old,” Leffler said.
“Mel always wanted a beautiful family but was fearful that her chemotherapy in early life may have affected her reproductive system, but she took time out of her hectic work schedule to try and begin a family.”
Leffler says he will never forget the day Mel announced the news of her first pregnancy.
“We were in a restaurant on Father’s Day and she excitedly announced to the table, ‘Next year Mick will be celebrating his first Father’s Day as a dad’,” he said.
“The following year, in typical Mel style, she organised an engagement party which turned into a surprise wedding.
“Mel was the perfect combination of traditional and non-traditional in her beliefs and actions and this was represented in the way she lived her life, her way.”
She leaves behind husband Mick to care for their two daughters, Clementine, 4, and nine-month-old Ottilie, who was still breastfeeding.
The family has launched a fundraiser to help Mick and the children.
“No one should be burying a partner, sister or daughter at 39,” Leffler said.
Leffler says his sister was fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with four doses and always took precautions to limit her exposure to the virus.
But the risk of exposure in the community is high even with best efforts, Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett said.
“While infections rates are up, even if they are tapering, it still means our infection rate is high and exposure risk is high,” she told
“We don’t want people to be fearful but they should be aware enough that they’re reacting.”
The virus still poses a real risk to the community, Bennett says, and while Australia has adapted to living with COVID, it does not mean it should be out of mind.
“Where we’ve moved to now is you can’t control SARS-CoV-2 in the population,” Bennett said.
“With every variant we saw a great challenge and our measures became less effective.”
Omicron proved this, with the variant appearing to have a shorter incubation period making people most infectious early on.
Most transmission appears to take place during the one to two days before symptoms appear and in the two to three days afterwards, meaning people can be infectious in the community before they even know they have the virus.
“There is no way to identify cases and contain them before they’re already infecting,” Bennett said.
An example of this was China, she explains, which has been doing everything it can to stamp out the virus with its zero-COVID approach but has been unsuccessful.
“It runs in the community … we can’t put it back in the box,” she said, adding “exposure is a given at the moment”.
But people can try to manage their own risk.
“We do think it is really important for people vulnerable with serious illness and those concerned about long COVID to still reduce the chance that exposure can turn into infection,” Bennett said.
For those who are immunocompromised, such as University of South Australia biostatistics and epidemiology chair Professor Adrian Esterman, taking steps to protect themselves is crucial.
“The government isn’t protecting people, so people should do it themselves,” Esterman told earlier this week.
“I know lots of people who simply won’t go out anymore.
“Even though I’m a full-time professor, I’ve hardly travelled … I can’t afford to get COVID because I could get very sick.”
Bennett also called for more consistent national health messaging about the changing risk the virus poses to the community to reinforce what people can and should do.
“We need health departments to step up to help interpret data to get good, scientifically-based but publicly understandable interpretation,” she said.
“It helps people feel they’ve got some control over it.
“As soon as case numbers push up, people would find it reassuring to know we’re on the same page with consistent understanding of evidence to then rely on and follow the advice.”
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