Doctors share how coronavirus can be treated right now

Published: Mar. 13, 2020 at 1:02 PM EDT
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COVID-19 novel coronavirus is new, meaning no vaccines currently exist to prevent it (although researchers are working hard to change that) and no antiviral medications are sold to help treat it. To tackle the infection, doctors say, requires going back to the basics.

Treatment for the virus is currently limited to managing symptoms. Those symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, and fever, according to the CDC.

“So, some people have more of a cough, some people have more congestion, some people will have fever or not,” UVA Health’s Chief of Quality and Patient Safety Dr. Tracey Hoke said. “Really, it’s symptom treatment.”

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help manage a fever, while cough syrup will help ease cough symptoms and help breathing. Tried and true techniques like lots of rest, getting lots of electrolyte-rich fluids like Gatorade and Pedialyte, and even chicken noodle soup can all help ease symptoms.

“Things that your grandmother might have told you to do if you weren’t feeling well," Hoke explained.

Most will not be receiving treatment in the hospital.

The majority of people don't suffer much from COVID-19, but it can cause severe illness in the elderly and people with existing health problems, especially those with existing lung conditions.

Those patients might require more intensive care than the average patient.

Even after testing positive, many people, though, will be sent home to ride out the sickness, with only the most serious cases remaining hospitalized for treatment.

“Many people who come for evaluation by their primary care doctor or are referred to our COVID-19 clinic might have a test but stay at home," Hoke explained. "In an effort to remove that exposure risk to the healthcare population, given that the hospital is probably one of the most vulnerable places to be.”

Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Avoid contact with sick people.

• Avoid non-essential travel.

If you are a resident in a community where there is ongoing spread of COVID-19 and you develop COVID-19 symptoms, you should call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms. They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19, most people who test positive experience mild symptoms and recover, and all who test positive must isolate at home or at a medical facility.