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Westen Dunn: How covid gave me tics

Katie Oliver
Tik Tok Tics
IMG 6354
Westen Dunn, 22  Image supplied by: Westen Dunn

Dunn contracted covid twice in early 2022. Now, a year later she's living with Tourette Syndrome.


Born and raised in Christchurch, Westen Dunn came from a tight-knit family. With her mum single-handedly raising Dunn and her five siblings, there was never a dull moment. 

In 2020, Dunn decided she wanted to be a teacher. She was half a semester from completing her degree at the University of Canterbury when she developed Tourette syndrome. 

Tourette Syndrome is a condition in the nervous system which causes people to experience “tics”. Tics are sudden movements, twitches or sounds people do repeatedly. They have little to no control over when or how these occur. 

In most cases, the condition starts in early childhood between the ages of four to six. The symptoms usually dissipate during adolescence. 

This was not the case for Westen Dunn. 

In January 2022, she was laying in bed trying to get to sleep when her whole body started convulsing. 

“I didn’t know if I was having a seizure or a stroke. I had no idea what was happening”.

She was rushed off to the hospital and remained there for several hours where staff tried a variety of medications. None of them had any effect. Dunn was sent home with nothing. The doctors didn’t know what to do with her and told her to visit a GP. 

Dunn originally had fine motor tics which enabled her to continue with her teaching placement. Then one morning, after her second time contracting covid, she woke up and the verbal tics started. 

What started as minor physical symptoms slowly progressed into severe verbal tics. 


“I didn’t know if I was having a seizure or a stroke. I had no idea what was happening”.

Some of her doctors agree that covid is to blame for her onset of Tourette Syndrome. 

“Both times that I have woken up and started ticking, I have just recently had covid”. 

According to Tourette’s Aotearoa, very little is known about what causes the condition. It is understood that it originates in the brain. It is also understood that covid can cause inflammation in the brain, something doctors believe could have triggered Dunn’s condition.

“They think an onset of inflammation in my brain has caused me to start developing tourettes”. 

A General Practitioner who wished not to be names, says although covid saw an increase in tic-like disorders in young women, it may be too early to confirm a direct association. She thinks an interesting thing about covid is it binds to ACE2 receptors, found everywhere in the body including the brain. The GP believes ongoing research is needed in order to fully understand both covid and Tourette Syndrome. 


Westen Teaching
Westen Dunn during her teaching placement, January 2022 Supplied by: Westen Dunn

For people like Dunn, everyday tasks like making a cup of tea can be seriously dangerous. This lack of independence can lead to an array of other issues including a decline in mental health.

Currently, Tourette Syndrome is not recognized as a disability by the Ministry of Health, which means people like Dunn can't get the support they need.

Although Dunn can't currently get a job, social media has been a massive help. She believes TikTok has given her the chance to do what she always dreamt of; teach young people. 

Westen Dunn now uses the platform to spread awareness around Tourette Syndrome. Her TikTok community has reached over 50,000 followers in just a few months and continues to grow.

To get more information on Tourette Syndrome, see the link below:




Westen Dunns diagnosis.