By Dr. Richard Ellin
BA.5 is currently the most common variant in the US and is one of the most highly contagious variants so far. Fortunately, it appears to be somewhat less virulent, meaning that it is not causing as much serious disease as some previous variants. This is true also because many people have been vaccinated and boosted, which largely prevents more severe disease. Some people who become infected remain without symptoms; most others develop typical cold/flu symptoms, such as sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, mostly dry cough, fatigue, and low-grade fever. However, a few people develop more serious symptoms, such as high fever, productive cough, and breathing issues. They often require hospitalization and are at risk of dying from the disease.
At this time, because Covid-19 is so prevalent in most communities, anyone developing any of the symptoms listed above should assume they have Covid-19 until proven otherwise.
If one develops SYMPTOMS they should:
- Be tested for Covid-19 using a rapid antigen test, either at home or at a local testing site. Many pharmacies and other establishments now offer testing. Results are typically available in 15 minutes. If the test is positive, you can be virtually certain you have Covid-19. If it’s negative, which it often is in the first 1-3 days of symptoms, test again 2-3 days later, but begin isolating. One can also go for a PCR test, which may turn positive earlier in the course of the disease compared to the rapid antigen test.
- Isolate according to current CDC guidelines, which can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.
- If you are at higher risk for more serious Covid-19, talk to your physician about taking either Paxlovid or molnupiravir, 2 medicines that can sharply reduce the risk of serious disease, especially in unvaccinated people. A current list of such conditions can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-care/underlyingconditions.html. These medicines must be started within the first 5 days of symptoms to be effective, highlighting the importance of testing early and if positive, contacting your physician as soon as possible.
If one is EXPOSED to Covid-19 and has no symptoms, one need not isolate. One may test themselves, and if negative, test again if symptoms develop, or 3 days after the initial test if still no symptoms, for further assurance that they do not have Covid-19. If one does test positive, even with no symptoms, they should isolate according to CDC guidelines.
One may OBTAIN TESTS in several ways. For current information go to https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/FindTests.
To PROTECT oneself, do the following:
- Wear a KN95 or N95 mask when in public places, such as restaurants, theaters, stores, etc, or, if you are at higher risk of severe disease, avoid these places altogether.
- Maintain social distance (ie 6 feet) from others when in public places, when possible.
- Wash your hands frequently using soap and water.
- Get vaccinated and fully boosted and continue to get boosters as new ones become available. Vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent severe disease (pneumonia, oxygen deprivation, hospitalization and death).
Dr. Richard Ellin is a board certified physician and is a member of the Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation Board of Directors