COVID-19 is a novel (new) coronavirus, not previously identified in humans, responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness that became a global pandemic in 2020. COVID-19 is different from other coronaviruses that cause mild illness, such as the common cold.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 appear about 2 to 14 days after exposure and include:
Emergency warning signs that require immediate medical attention (call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital’s emergency department):
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- Bluish lips or face
- New confusion or inability to arouse
Other less common symptoms of COVID-19 may include:
- Body aches
- Feeling unwell (malaise)
- Loss of appetite
- Altered sense of taste and/or smell
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
What Causes COVID-19?
Less commonly, COVID-19 may be transmitted when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.
How Is COVID-19 Diagnosed?
Doctors will check if patients have any of the hallmark symptoms of COVID-19, and will also ask if the patient had any known recent exposure to the virus.
If COVID-19 is suspected there are several tests that can be used to diagnose the virus. A long swab is used to take a sample from the nose or throat, which is then sent to a lab for testing to diagnose the illness. Some viral tests are rapid and results are available within a few hours but are less reliable. Other tests may take several days to receive results but the results are more reliable.
- PCR tests (genetic or molecular test)
- Antigen test
Another test that can establish if a person had a past COVID-19 infection is an antibody test. An antibody test is not used to diagnose current infections because it takes up to 3 weeks following infection for the body to produce antibodies to the virus. When a person has antibodies to COVID-19 they may have some protection against re-infection, however, researchers do not yet know how much protection antibodies provide or for how long any protections might last.
What Is the Treatment for COVID-19?
There is no specific treatment for COVID-19, and supportive care is aimed at relieving symptoms in mild cases.
Patients with mild illness are usually advised to remain home and self-isolate for 14 days to avoid spreading the virus. Treatments for mild COVID-19 symptoms include:
- Pain relievers
- Cough suppressants
- Adequate fluid intake
For more severe illness, patients may require hospitalization. Treatments may include:
- Antiviral therapy with remdesivir
- Dexamethasone is preferred
- Prednisone, methylprednisolone, or hydrocortisone may be used if dexamethasone is not available
- Convalescent plasma
- Immunoglobulin products
- Interleukin inhibitors
- Kinase inhibitors
- Antithrombotic therapy - anticoagulants and antiplatelet therapy
- High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen
Ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, is being studied as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Currently, the available clinical data on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 are limited and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19, except in a clinical trial.
Colchicine, an anti-gout medication, is also being studied in a clinical trial to determine if short-term treatment with colchicine will reduce lung complications and the rate of death in COVID-19 patients. It is not currently approved for use to treat patients for COVID-19.
Current guidelines neither recommend nor advise against the use of vitamin C, vitamin D, or zinc. Zinc should not be taken in doses above the recommended daily allowance (RDA) due to the risk of toxicity.
Hydroxychloroquine was touted as a possible treatment in the past, but studies to date have shown it to be ineffective with a high risk of fatal heart arrhythmias, and it is not recommended.
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