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If I get COVID-19, what are my options for treatment?

  • A hand with an IV
    Moment RF

While our best line of defense against COVID-19 continues to be getting vaccinated, research is also ongoing into potential treatments for those who do contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Several treatments are available today, with more being researched in clinical trials to determine their safety and effectiveness.

“With any infectious disease or virus, we always want to look for ways to both prevent infection as well as treat infection,” said Haley Pritchard, infectious disease physician and assistant professor of clinical medicine at the IU School of Medicine. “Prevention and treatment research for COVID-19 has been ongoing since the beginning of the pandemic. We have wonderful vaccines now that help with infection prevention, and continued research into treatment is showing promise for new therapies for those at risk for severe cases of COVID-19.”

Currently, there are various ways to treat symptoms of COVID-19 at home as well as FDA-authorized and approved treatments that health care providers can give to those positive for the virus.

Pritchard gave an overview of current options:

Home treatments for symptoms of COVID-19

  • Use a fever reducer, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help bring down a fever associated with COVID-19 infection.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, especially if you have a fever.
  • Give it a rest. During your isolation, make sure to allow plenty of time for rest and taking it easy so your body can fight off the virus and recover.

Treatments available from your health care provider

  • Monoclonal antibodies are molecules made in a lab that act like substitute antibodies for a particular virus. These look-a-like antibodies can help your immune system recognize and fight off a virus, which makes it harder for the virus to continue attacking your body. The FDA has authorized several monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 in those who are over 12, have a mild or moderate case of COVID-19 but are at high risk for severe disease. These treatments are given intravenously from a health care provider.
  • Remdesivir is the only FDA-approved antiviral drug to treat adults and some children who are hospitalized due to COVID-19. This drug is given intravenously, and only in people who are hospitalized with severe disease. Remdesivir stops the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating in the body, which helps to shorten the recovery time in people with severe COVID-19 infection.
  • Immunomodulators are a class of drugs that change how your body produces and responds to inflammation. This group includes steroids, as well as two other drugs called tocilizumab and baricitinib. Steroids are recommended for people with severe COVID-19 infection who need to be in the hospital. Tocilizumab and baricitinib are reserved for people with COVID-19 who are critically ill, because while they can help control inflammation caused by COVID-19 infection, their effects on the immune system can put people at risk of other infections.

What’s on the horizon?

  • New antivirals are continuing to be researched including one from Merck, which is currently being reviewed by the FDA. Unlike the above treatments, this one is a pill that can be prescribed and taken at home to treat COVID-19 infection. Researchers and health care providers are keeping a close eye on this because an at-home treatment that can reduce symptoms and speed recovery time could significantly lessen the current burden on hospitals in the U.S. while also giving poorer countries an avenue for stemming outbreaks.
  • The Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program is a special emergency program created by the FDA to help get new treatments to patients as quickly and safely as possible. There are currently hundreds of drugs being studied and planned, including antivirals; immunomodulators, which lessen the body’s immune reaction to a virus; and neutralizing antibody therapies.
  • Expanded COVID-19 vaccine access, while a prevention strategy versus treatment, continues to be a focus for researchers, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The FDA is set to review Pfizer’s data on its COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages five to 11 later this month as well as data for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson booster doses.

“While we must continue research into treatments for COVID-19, especially to help those individuals who are at risk for severe complications and infections, I can’t stress enough the importance of prevention in this pandemic as well,” Pritchard said. “Getting vaccinated, getting a third dose or booster dose if you’re eligible, wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, getting tested if you have any symptoms … all of these prevention strategies will help end the pandemic and allow these treatment options to be used for those at high risk or with a severe case.”

Amanda Roach is a senior communications consultant with the Office of the Vice President for Communications and Marketing.