Diagnosis

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) or you've been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, contact your health care provider. Also let your health care provider know if you've had close contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Factors used to decide whether to test you for the virus that causes COVID-19 may differ depending on where you live. Depending on your location, you may need to be screened by your clinic to determine if testing is appropriate and available.

In the U.S., your health care provider will determine whether to conduct tests for the virus that causes COVID-19 based on your signs and symptoms, as well as whether you have had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Your health care provider may also consider testing if you are at higher risk of serious illness or you are going to have a medical procedure. If you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 but you've had COVID-19 in the past month, you don't need to be tested. If you've been fully vaccinated and you've had close contact with someone with COVID-19, get tested 5 days after you've had contact with them.

To test for the COVID-19 virus, a health care provider takes a sample from the nose (nasopharyngeal swab), throat (throat swab) or saliva. The samples are then sent to a lab for testing. If you're coughing up sputum, that may be sent for testing. The FDA has authorized at-home tests for the COVID-19 virus. These are available only with a doctor's prescription.

Treatment

Currently, only one medication has been approved to treat COVID-19. No cure is available for COVID-19. Antibiotics aren't effective against viral infections such as COVID-19. Researchers are testing a variety of possible treatments.

The FDA has approved the antiviral drug remdesivir (Veklury) to treat COVID-19 in hospitalized adults and children who are age 12 and older in the hospital. Remdesivir may be prescribed for people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 and need supplemental oxygen or have a higher risk of serious illness. It's given through a needle in the skin (intravenously).

The FDA has authorized a drug called Paxlovid that includes nirmatrelvir – a drug that blocks the activity of a specific enzyme needed for the virus that causes COVID-19 to replicate – and an antiviral drug called ritonavir that helps slow the breakdown of nirmatrelvir. Paxlovid is authorized to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in people age 12 and older who are at higher risk of serious illness. The medications are taken by mouth as pills.

The FDA has authorized another drug called molnupiravir to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults who are at higher risk of serious illness and who aren't able to take other treatment options. The medication is taken by mouth as a pill.

The FDA has authorized the rheumatoid arthritis drug baricitinib (Olumiant) to treat COVID-19 in some cases. Baricitinib is a pill that seems to work against COVID-19 by reducing inflammation and having antiviral activity. Baricitinib may be used in people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 who are on mechanical ventilators or need supplemental oxygen.

Monoclonal antibody medications include sotrovimab; bebtelovimab; a combination of bamlanivimab and etesevimab; and a combination of casirivimab and imdevimab. Some monoclonal antibodies, including bamlanivimab and etesevimab and casirivimab and imdevimab, aren't effective against COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant. However, sotrovimab and bebtelovimab can be used to treat COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant.

These drugs are used to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in people who have a higher risk of developing serious illness due to COVID-19. Treatment involves a single infusion given by a needle in the arm (intravenously) in an outpatient setting. To be most effective, these medications need to be given soon after COVID-19 symptoms start and prior to hospitalization.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has recommended the corticosteroid dexamethasone for people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 who are on supplemental oxygen or need mechanical ventilation. Other corticosteroids, such as prednisone, methylprednisolone or hydrocortisone, may be used if dexamethasone isn't available.

In some cases, the drugs remdesivir, tocilizumab or baricitinib may be given with dexamethasone in hospitalized people who are on mechanical ventilation or need supplemental oxygen.

The FDA has also authorized convalescent plasma therapy with high antibody levels to treat COVID-19. Convalescent plasma is blood donated by people who've recovered from COVID-19. Convalescent plasma with high antibodies may be used to treat some hospitalized people ill with COVID-19 who are either early in their illness or who have weakened immune systems.

Many people with COVID-19 may have mild illness and can be treated with supportive care. Supportive care is aimed at relieving symptoms and may include:

  • Pain relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen)
  • Cough syrup or medication
  • Rest
  • Fluid intake

There is no evidence that ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) need to be avoided.

If you have mild symptoms, your health care provider will likely recommend that you recover at home. You may be given special instructions to monitor your symptoms and to avoid spreading the illness to others. You'll likely be asked to isolate yourself as much as possible from family and pets while you're sick, wear a mask when you're around people and pets, and use a separate bedroom and bathroom. And keep air flow in your home by opening windows and using air filters when possible.

Your health care provider will likely recommend that you stay in home isolation for a period of time except to get medical care. Your health care provider will likely follow up with you regularly. Follow guidelines from your health care provider and local health department about when you can end home isolation.

If you're very ill, you may need to be treated in the hospital.

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Coping and support

It's common to feel fearful and anxious during the COVID-19 pandemic. You're probably worried that you or those you love will get sick. You may be concerned about taking care of yourself or others who are ill.

During this time, remember to take care of yourself and manage your stress.

  • Eat healthy meals.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Get physical activity.
  • Try relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, stretching and meditation.
  • Avoid watching or reading too much news.
  • Connect with friends and family, such as with phone or video calls.
  • Do activities you enjoy, such as reading a book or watching a funny movie.

If you're ill with COVID-19, it's especially important to:

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink fluids.
  • Let your health care provider know right away if your symptoms worsen.

Having COVID-19 or caring for someone with the disease can cause stress and anxiety. If stress is affecting your daily life after several days, contact your health care provider and consider requesting a referral to a mental health professional.

Related information

Preparing for your appointment

To be treated for COVID-19, you may start by seeing your primary care doctor or other health care provider. Or you may be referred immediately to a doctor trained in treating infectious diseases. If you think you have COVID-19, tell your health care provider before going in. The health care provider and medical team can then:

  • Contact infection prevention and control and public health officials
  • Prepare to move you to a room quickly
  • Have a mask ready for you

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance. Make a list of:

  • Your symptoms, including any that seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • Your recent travels, including any international travels
  • Key personal information, including major stresses, recent life changes and family medical history
  • All medications, vitamins or other supplements you take, including the doses
  • Questions to ask your doctor

Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given. Avoid bringing more than one or two people. Check before you go to the appointment, as your hospital or clinic may have visitor restrictions.

Some basic questions to ask your health care provider include:

  • How likely is it that COVID-19 is causing my symptoms?
  • What are other possible causes for my symptoms?
  • What tests do I need?
  • What course of action do you recommend?
  • Are there restrictions I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist?

What to expect from your doctor

Your health care provider is likely to ask you several questions, such as:

  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • Where have you traveled recently?
  • Who have you been in close contact with?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
Sept. 14, 2022
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