As global health organizations track the death toll of COVID-19, scientists are also learning more about treatment for the illness, and what happens to people who recover.
We’ve gotten lots of questions about what living through COVID-19 might look like.
Note: At this point, health officials are recommending that people experiencing mild symptoms such as cough and fever stay home to avoid exposing others in hospitals and clinics. But if your symptoms become serious, call your doctor.
Here’s information for taking care of yourself if you get sick, and what scientists currently know about recovery:
How do I treat COVID-19 at home?
The World Health Organization estimates about 80% of COVID-19 cases are mild and will not require hospitalization. The most commonly reported symptoms are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. If you come down with the illness, you can treat it much like you would a cold or the flu: rest, hydration and non-prescription medication.
Here is a list of recommendations compiled from the Mayo Clinic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins Medicine about what to do if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
- Stay home. Do not go to work, do not go to the store, do not go to the hospital. Call your doctor to discuss your symptoms and whether testing or formal treatment is needed.
- Try to stay in one room of the house to avoid exposing others. If you must touch other surfaces and household items, sanitize them after use.
- Drink fluids
- Take cough medicine or pain relievers as needed.
- Restrict contact with your pets. Although there have not been reports of pets becoming sick with COVID-19, it is still recommended that symptomatic people limit contact with animals until more is known about the virus.
Find a booklet on how to prevent and treat COVID-19 created by and for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities here.
When should I go to the hospital for treatment?
Seek immediate care in a professional health setting if you are experience following emergency warning symptoms:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
The CDC notes that this list is not all inclusive, and that people should consult a medical provider about other symptoms that are severe or concerning.
Can I take ibuprofen for COVID-19?
Last week, French health minister Olivier Véran suggested that people who believe they have COVID-19 should avoid ibuprofen and take Tylenol instead. Véran said ibuprofen could possibly worsen a coronavirus infection. The journal Lancet also published a letter in which doctors theorized whether there might be a harmful link between the drug and the virus.
Since then, leaders from the European Medicines Agency, the World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration have all said that there is no evidence to support the idea that ibuprofen could worsen COVID-19 symptoms, and that sick people should feel free to take any pain reliever they choose.
What is the estimated recovery time for COVID-19?
One to two weeks, for mild cases.
There is no specific medicine to treat COVID-19. People who go to the hospital with severe cases may receive supportive care such as a ventilator to help them breathe and IV bags or feeding tubes to deliver nutrition.
Symptoms can appear anywhere between two and 14 days after infection, though some experts say they usually show up about five days in. If it’s going to progress to a severe case, the symptoms usually get worse after about a week of being sick.
Those with mild cases of COVID-19 appear to recover within one to two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. For severe cases, recovery may take six weeks or more.
After I become sick with COVID-19 and get better, will I become immune?
Scientists do not have enough research at this point to say for certain whether people become immune to COVID-19 after catching it once, but many researchers say it’s likely that humans who get the illness will have immunity for at least a short period of time.
A preliminary study in monkeys showed subjects who were exposed to the virus developed antibodies to it shortly after infection, and that those antibodies were still present four weeks later. Attempts to infect the monkeys a second time failed.
“The latest evidence suggests that If you get infected, you will become immune to this strain of the virus,” said Juris Grasis, a molecular cell biologist at UC Merced. “People are developing immune response, they’re developing antibodies against the virus, and that’s indicative of a ‘memory response’, as we call it in immunology.”
How long after becoming sick with COVID-19 do people remain contagious?
In general, people can return to normal activities after at least seven days have passed since symptoms began and 72 hours after fever is gone and other symptoms are improving, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
But the virus shedding period may extend beyond that window. One study in The Lancet looked at 137 COVID-19 survivors and found that the virus stayed in their bodies for a median duration of 20 days after symptoms began, with the longest duration being 37 days.
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