Business Insider Edition

How to safely weather Covid-19 in your home, and how to know if you're recovered

Shira Feder , Business Insider US
 Apr 14, 2020, 06:16 PM
A man in self-isolation looks out the window
Justin Paget/Getty Images
  • While 20% of coronavirus cases require hospitalisation, most cases will be weathered from home.
  • A mild case of coronavirus may range from a temperature and low energy to a high fever, chills, a cough, extreme shortness of breath, and a lack of appetite or sense of smell.
  • Since there is no treatment to treat mild Covid-19 aside from keeping hydrated, ventilated, nourished, doctors do not advise hospital care unless a patient is having severe respiratory problems that would require oxygen.
  • At home, doctors advise to use acetaminophen and cough suppressants, try to eat healthy, easily-digestible foods at regular intervals, and rest as much as possible.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

While serious cases of Covid-19 will need to be handled in a hospital, many people will fight off the illness at home.

A Chinese study of 72,314 individuals with Covid-19 found that 19% of cases required hospitalisation, while an analysis of New York hospitalisations found that about a quarter of people who've tested positive for the disease required hospitalisation.

The statistics are complicated by the fact that testing rates are low, particularly in the US and European countries, so it's hard to get a clear picture of how common hospitalisation may be. But it's clear that, for the majority of people, the coronavirus will be fought at home.

"We don't want people who are relatively well coming to the hospital," Jeff Rabrich, the director of emergency medicine at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, told Wired. "If you're mildly ill, do not go to a hospital."

Here's how a mild case of coronavirus might feel

At this point, doctors say if you have the symptoms, you can likely assume you have coronavirus even without a test. Those symptoms may include fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, exhaustion, body aches, lack of appetite, and an inability to taste or smell anything.

Increasingly, doctors are seeing other, less-discussed symptoms associated with the virus, too, including diarrhea, conjunctivitis, dizziness, and even malaise.

"I haven't necessarily felt this much lung congestion with anything I've ever had before, like a cough or a cold in the past," one New York man told Business Insider. A 50-year-old Scottish man said: "The biggest symptom was aches and pains, particularly in my legs."

While all of that is bad, it does not necessarily require medical attention. ER doctors in hard-hit areas like New York only have space to admit hypoxic patients - ones who have extremely low oxygen levels.

For "mild" cases, the CDC says symptoms will last for a few days and people will feel better in about a week.

However, if you feel severe shortness of breath, severe chest pain, or have bluish lips or face, you should go to a hospital.

Here are the medications you can take for coronavirus - and the ones you should not

Crystal Cox/Business Insider
The World Health Organization and government health departments recommend, as with any fever, to take acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, every four to six hours.

It's not fully understood how acetaminophen works, but it seems to target parts of the brain that control body temperature, cooling the body down, according to the Mayo Clinic. For a fever, minor aches and pains, "our first go-to medication is typically acetaminophen, or Tylenol," Mayo Clinic clinical pharmacist Carrie Krieger said. Those with liver damage should not take acetaminophen, and nobody should exceed 3,000 mg per day.

The French Health Minister spurred a debate about the safety of ibuprofen to treat people with mild coronavirus cases, largely because in high doses it has been linked to stomach ulcers. However, the WHO and the FDA responded saying the use of ibuprofen is safe.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends cough suppressants for people at home with a bad cough from Covid-19.

Doctors urge patients treating coronavirus symptoms at home not to take any drugs that have been touted as potential treatments, but have not yet been proven safe or effective.

Do not take hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine phosphate, despite rumours, fanned by President Donald Trump, that the drugs could be promising treatments for coronavirus. A study in France, that was not peer-reviewed and was rushed to publication in a journal edited by the author of the study, found thin evidence that the drug, combined with an antibiotic, had been effective in treating patients with Covid-19 in a hospital. However, there were holes in the research, and there are documented risks associated with the drug, including the death of an Arizona man who took chloroquine phosphate after seeing Trump promoting it during his press conferences.

Eat regularly, stay hydrated, and don't overheat

Covid-19 is an exhausting condition, so naturally patients will need to rest, and they should do just that.

It's also important to stay hydrated, by drinking water regularly and avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which dehydrate the body - the body is already being dehydrated by fever. Electrolyte-rich sports drinks are also for hydration.

You're also going to have to eat. Many Covid-19 patients have reported having no appetite or being unable to stomach food due to nausea or a heightened resistance to the texture of food. However, when your body is sick, it needs the extra energy food provides in order to keep fighting off the illness. Try soups, broth, bananas, apple sauce, smoothies, and other easily digestible foods.

Try not to wear too many layers of clothes, even if you have the chills. Your body is warm, but due to the chills, you don't feel warm. But putting on too many layers can make you overheat.

Avoid passing the virus to others in your household by storing your toothbrush separately, and clean all communal surfaces

The CDC advises people with Covid-19 stay in their own room, confined from others, and to use a separate bathroom for other people in their house.

For many people, that's not possible. So, instead, take measures to avoid spread of the virus and keep the home clean.

Wash your hands often, for at least twenty seconds. "Twenty seconds has been shown to be the minimum amount of time it takes to really remove germs," family physician Dr. Sarah Borwein previously told Insider. Don't forget to cover your sneezes and coughs, avoid sharing items like towels or bedding with other people in your house.

Clean high-touch surfaces like tables, the toilet flush, light switches, and doorknobs after they've been touched by someone with Covid-19. Wear a mask and gloves and disinfect these areas with bleach, like Clorox.

For Covid-19 patients who don't have their own bathrooms, dentists say they should use their own toothpaste, stored separately from others' toothpastes. They should store their toothbrushes separately, too, so the toothbrushes don't accidentally touch.

When it comes to cooking and eating, Covid-19 patients should not be in a communal space like a kitchen. Others in the household can leave food outside the door, but they shouldn't bring food in. If the person with Covid-19 cannot come to the door to retrieve their food, someone can bring their food in, but it's recommended that they wear a mask and gloves.

In terms of washing clothes: The CDC officially says that sick people's clothing can be combined with the laundry of healthy people, but most experts advise people to isolate the contaminated clothing in a separate load.

Wait 3-7 days after symptoms subside before exposing yourself to other people

ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
If a patient tests negative for a coronavirus twice within 24 hours, they're considered recovered.

However, tests are in very short supply. Generally, people with Covid-19 seem to recover or deteriorate (to the extent that they need hospitalisation) within seven days of their worst symptoms appearing. Those who are still showing symptoms after seven days of fever, short breath, and coughing should see a doctor.

But that's not to say you are recovered if, on day seven, your cough or fever disappear. If your temperature has gone down but you're still coughing, you may still have coronavirus.

Doctors say a good way to determine recovery is if a patient is fever-free without medication for at least three days. According to Dr Darien Sutton, an emergency physician in New York, the general consensus is to wait three to seven days before exposing yourself to others. It is important to err on the side of caution.

There is some evidence that people who've had Covid-19 can contract it a second time, so even people who feel certain that they've had Covid-19 should not consider themselves immune. They should still practice physical distancing, avoid contact with people outside the household, and wash hands regularly.

Anyone who has been living in the same house as someone with Covid-19 should quarantine - that is, do not leave the house - for 14 days after exposure, even if they have taken serious measures to limit their exposure.

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