You’ve likely read that most people with the disease experience “mild symptoms” that have been compared to the flu or a cold ― fever, fatigue, dry cough, aches, chills, sore throat, runny nose and diarrhea. More severe symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and pneumonia.
If you’re experiencing severe symptoms, call 911 to get immediate medical care. If your symptoms are mild, however, contact a health professional via phone or telemedicine services for guidance.
Due to test kit shortages, people experiencing mild symptoms may not qualify for testing yet unless they’ve been in contact with confirmed coronavirus patients or have visited high-risk areas. As tests become more widely available, this will hopefully change, but in the meantime, you may have to treat your mild symptoms at home.
With that in mind, HuffPost spoke to a few doctors to find out how to treat these mild cases and what supplies you’ll want to have on hand as you recover from a flu-like illness at home. (Hint: It’s not a six-month supply of toilet paper.)
“First and foremost, if you experience mild symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat, body aches, diarrhea, and/or runny nose, you should self-isolate ― meaning stay home and away from others,” Daniel Berliner, a physician at the virtual health platform PlushCare, told HuffPost.
Avoiding other people is a good practice for cold and flu-like illnesses generally. It also provides the opportunity to get lots of rest.
If you live with family members or roommates, keep at least six feet between you and others at home for 14 days. Stay in a separate room and use a different bathroom if possible.
“Avoid sharing personal household items,” said Tony Yuan, a physician and medical director at Doctor On Demand. “Set aside separate dishes, drinking glasses, eating utensils, towels, and bedding solely for your use.”
It’s important to drink lots of fluids when you’re feeling sick.
“With a fever, you want to make sure you don’t get dehydration, and simple hydration will consistently prevent that side effect while you’re sick,” noted Jake Deutsch, a physician and founder of Cure Urgent Care.
While water is obviously a good choice, Yuan also recommended drinks with electrolytes like Gatorade or Pedialyte. Indeed, a cruise ship passenger who tested positive for COVID-19 wrote in The Washington Post that much of his hospital treatment consisted of “what felt like gallons and gallons of Gatorade.”
Berliner said juices and other nutrient-filled beverages can help as well, but ultimately, the goal is just to stay hydrated to avoid hospitalization if possible.
“Your ability to urinate and have bowel movements should not decrease when you are sick at home, as that could be a sign of not taking in enough fluids and food and lead to dehydration ― making you sicker and in need of care in a health facility,” said Berliner.
In addition to drinking lots of fluids, you’ll want to eat a balanced diet. As experts have noted, it’s good to stock up on a two-week supply of nonperishable food items like soup, pasta, rice, and canned foods.
Deutsch recommended fruits and vegetables, foods that are high in vitamins and nutrients, and some carbohydrates. Yuan noted that broth, chicken soup, garlic, yogurt, leafy greens and vitamin C-containing fruits can be good for the immune system, too.
“As many local stores and mail-order vendors are limiting their hours and running out of needed supplies, you do need to prepare now at home so that you and your family can survive at home for a 14-day self-isolation period when you may not be able to easily obtain more food and cleaning items,” Berliner explained.
“However, buying excessive amounts of these items ― hoarding supplies ― will only serve to make the situation more stressful for everyone as there will not be enough for others and result in you and your neighbors behaving in likely unpleasant ways to one another.”
Take Meds If You Need
Take stock of your medical supplies when preparing for a possible case of coronavirus.
“Have Tylenol on hand to bring down your fever,” Deutsch advised, adding that supplements like vitamin C and zinc can boost your immune system as well.
He and Yuan both recommended medications to address other symptoms, including decongestants containing phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine, cough suppressants with dextromethorphan, and expectorants containing guaifenesin.
“For people who have other medical problems, you’re going to want to make sure you have your supplies for that such as asthmatics and medications you would need for your asthma,” said Deutsch. “People that have underlying conditions and are prone to getting infections like bronchitis or emphysema, having a course of antibiotics readily available might be something to discuss with your doctor as well.”
A thermometer is also good to have on hand to track your fever.
Practice Good Hygiene
While home recuperating from a mild case of COVID-19 or flu-like illness, it’s important to keep practicing good hygiene.
“This includes coughing and sneezing into one’s elbow and not onto others, wiping down touched surfaces with disinfectant, thoroughly washing one’s hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after bathroom use and after any contact with possibly contaminated surfaces, and generally staying clean by showering and wearing clean clothes at home,” Berliner explained.
It’s also important to thoroughly clean high-touch surfaces like counters, tabletops, doorknobs, keyboards and toilets. Be sure to have disinfecting wipes and disposable latex gloves.
Monitor Your Symptoms
As you take care of yourself in isolation, pay attention to your symptoms and be on the lookout for more severe ones like high fever or difficulty breathing. Contact a doctor for more guidance if things don’t get better.
“In most people, the mild symptoms will remain mild and, whether coronavirus, a cold, or the flu, the symptoms will decrease over this 14-day isolation period,” Berliner said. “If you have concerns at any time during your self-care period at home, contact your health care provider by phone for up-to-date advice regarding COVID-19 testing and your need for an on-site evaluation in a health care facility.”
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