What Do You Do if You Get Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Ask a Doctor

I’m watching news coverage on television about the Wuhan coronavirus, and they say there are no drugs specifically for the disease because it’s new. If there are no drugs to treat coronavirus, what do doctors do to treat it? They must have some treatments because many people seem to recover. Are there antiviral medications used against Wuhan? What are the other treatments?

Doctor’s Response

There is no drug to treat this new Wuhan coronavirus 2019-nCoV. There is no vaccine for coronaviruses at this time.

Coronaviruses are very common. Most coronaviruses that infect humans cause mild symptoms like a common cold and go away on their own. Very few may cause severe disease such as viral pneumonia that may lead to death. Severe coronavirus infections may require hospitalization and intensive care support such as mechanical ventilation and blood pressure support.

But complications of coronavirus are very rare except in the case of immune deficiency or a strain of coronavirus known to cause severe infection, like Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), or Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

Complications include viral pneumonia, which may lead to severe acute respiratory failure. In addition, widespread inflammation (sepsis, or systemic inflammatory response syndrome or SIRS) may lead to shock, kidney failure, and even death in some cases.

Fortunately, even a frightening new coronavirus mutation like the novel Wuhan virus appear less deadly than even some kinds of flu. In the initial months of the Wuhan outbreak, fatality estimates for Wuhan stood at about 2% to 3%. This is much lower that other novel coronavirus types that have surfaced in recent decades. Middle East respiratory syndrome, for example, kills 30% to 35% of the people it infects.

There are limited treatments for coronavirus infections, in general, other than supportive treatment of symptoms such as fever, congestion, and discomfort. Common cold remedies such as over-the-counter medicines help improve comfort while the infection runs its course.

There is no antiviral treatment for most coronavirus infections.

A new antiviral drug (remdesivir, also known as GS-5734) under investigation for treating Ebola virus has also been found to be effective against MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, but it is still in development and not commercially available.

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