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How Do Doctors Treat the New Coronavirus?

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We’ve heard a lot about the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and why it’s important to practice social distancing, wash your hands often and self-isolate or quarantine if you think you’re sick. It’s critical to focus on slowing down the disease. But what happens if you’re one of the thousands of people who get the virus? You may be wondering how COVID-19 is currently being treated.

What Is the Coronavirus?

The coronavirus (COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2) is a virus that attacks your lung and respiratory system. More contagious than the flu, COVID-19 spreads through contact with the respiratory droplets of someone who is infected, whether they sneeze or cough within six feet of you or you touch a contaminated surface. The best way to reduce your risk of getting or spreading the virus is to wash your hands often (for at least 20 seconds each time) and avoid close contact with groups of people.

What Are the Symptoms of the Coronavirus?

The symptoms of the coronavirus are similar to the symptoms of the flu or common cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

The CDC also advised that the following symptoms may be signs of a serious COVID-19 infection that requires emergency medical treatment right away:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pains or chest pressure
  • Confusion or lethargy
  • Bluish coloring in your lips or face
  • Pneumonia

It takes about five days for symptoms to appear, but you may not experience symptoms for up to 14 days after being affected. COVID-19 symptoms range from mild to severe. Those who are over the age of 60, are immunocompromised or live with another chronic illness have a higher risk of more severe symptoms. The mortality rate of COVID-19 could be approximately 3-4%, 30 times higher than the seasonal flu, which has a death rate of under 1%.

How Is Coronavirus Treated?

COVID-19 is still a new virus to humans. Medical research to understand the disease and develop specific treatments or a preventative vaccine will take time. Like other viruses, antibiotics are not an effective treatment. (Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections.)

Approximately 80% of people who get SARS-CoV-2 don’t require hospitalization. Among the other 20% who do require hospitalization, about 5% require intensive care. Clinical trials are underway to test new drugs to treat COVID-19. However, the best course of action right now is supportive care.

The COVID-19 treatments that doctors have been using so far include:

  • Increasing fluid intake (may require intravenous fluids depending on severity)
  • Taking fever-reducing medications
  • Administering oxygen to support breathing
  • Using a ventilator at the hospital to support lung function
  • Being prescribed an experimental antiviral treatment in the hospital
  • Preventing a potentially fatal overactive immune system response (called cytokine storm syndrome) that causes your immune system to attack itself and multiorgan failure

Is There a Vaccine for the Coronavirus?

Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID-19. But experts around the world are hard at work trying to create one, including in the United States. Despite accelerated progress, it’s estimated a vaccine for COVID-19 for public use is at least 12 to 18 months away — if attempts to make a vaccine are successful.

On March 12, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he expects human clinical trials to start on a potential vaccine for COVID-19 to start within the next month or so. A biotech company called Moderna and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have teamed up to develop a potential vaccine. 

The Takeaway

If you’re anxious about COVID-19 and what it means for you and your loved ones, you’re not alone. Practice good hygiene and limit the amount of time you spend in close contact with others to reduce your risk of getting the virus. We’re all in this together.

“People should stay alert about public health recommendations and measures to help the community safe,” Negin Hajizadeh, M.D., pulmonary and critical care physician and assistant professor at The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, told The Mighty. She added:

This is a time for us to consider the welfare of our entire communities. What we do can make a difference even though it seems as though this outbreak is bigger than us. Even if we are inclined to care for ourselves and our families only, we can only overcome this virus if we work as a community together.

Concerned about coronavirus? Stay safe using the tips from these articles:

Header image via Chinnapong/Getty Images

Originally published: March 13, 2020
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