Who, when, how to seek antiviral treatment for COVID

May 2, 2022
Who, when, how to seek antiviral treatment for COVID

MAY 9, 2022 -- Antiviral medicine like Paxlovid can help prevent severe illness and hospitalization from COVID.

Not everyone needs it. Those who do should act quickly, even if they don’t feel very sick at first: Treatment must be started within the first five days of symptoms to be effective.

People over 65 and those with certain risk factors should seek antiviral treatment as soon as they know they have COVID.

Risk factors:

Age 65+ Obesity or being overweight Pregnancy (talk with your obstetrician about treatment options other than Paxlovid) Diabetes (type 1 or 2) Chronic kidney disease Immunosuppressive disease or immunosuppressive treatment (such as chemotherapy) Cardiovascular disease (including congenital heart disease) or hypertension Chronic lung disease (COPD, moderate to severe asthma, interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension) Sickle cell disease Neurodevelopment disorders Dependence on medical-related technology (such as tracheostomy, gastrostomy, or ventilation not related to COVID)

Only people with these risk factors will get a prescription for antiviral medication.

As soon as you start feeling symptoms or you think you’ve been exposed, get tested. An at-home antigen test is a good, quick option.

If you test positive, talk with a doctor as soon as you can about your risk of getting very sick and your best treatment options. Call your clinic; a phone call may give your care team enough information. Urgent Care is an option after clinic hours, of if you don't have a provider you regularly see. If you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, severe vomiting or dehydration, seek care at the Emergency Room. 

If your at-home test is negative but you feel sick, get a PCR test in a clinic or pharmacy (some will test via drive-through). You can search the state’s database of test locations by zip code: https://mn.gov/covid19/get-tested/. If your PCR test is negative and you still feel sick, see your provider – you may have influenza or another illness. If your PCR test is positive, call your clinic as soon as possible.

If you’re an NH+C patient, we’ll review your medical chart to see if you meet the criteria for treatment. (If you’re not already an NH+C patient, we’ll do our best to help with a clinic appointment.) If you do meet the criteria, we’ll get more information from you (via phone, or clinic visit) to help you get the right treatment for you. The doctor will give you a prescription and we can help you fill it. The state also lists where to get antiviral medications: health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/hcp/medsaccess.html

If you don’t need antiviral treatment, a nurse will give you information on caring for your symptoms at home.

For those at high risk of severe illness, antiviral medication can reduce that risk by nearly 90%. Because these treatments prevent people from getting severely ill and needing hospitalization, they must be taken before that level of care is required.

Paxlovid is the most common treatment. It’s a combination of three pills, taken twice a day for five days. It must be started within five days of your first symptoms (regardless of when you were tested). It’s authorized for people 12 and older.

Paxlovid has interactions with some common medications. Your provider can help you find alternatives. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your provider about medication options.

If you’re young (under 65), healthy with no chronic medical conditions and your symptoms are mild, your risk of severe illness is low. Stay home, monitor your symptoms, and seek medical care if you have trouble breathing, pain in chest or belly, severe vomiting or dehydration.

If you have risk conditions, make a plan now in case you get COVID. Know what to do if symptoms develop, because the timeframe for antivirals to work is so tight. Be ready to act.

The best protection against COVID is vaccination. Early studies have shown an improved antibody response in those who are vaccinated even if they do get COVID. It’s not too late to protect yourself. Schedule your vaccination in our Northfield Clinic: 507-646-8019 (If you’re due for a booster, we can schedule that too.)

We encourage you to seek other options, too. The state’s Vaccine Connector is searchable by location. Local options include pharmacies, Rice County Public Health and Dakota County Public Health.

More on antiviral medication to treat COVID:

CDC's Treatments for Severe Illness

MDH's COVID-19 Medication Options 



Photo credit: Kches16414, Wikimedia 



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