- The first patient in the U.S. diagnosed with novel coronavirus—which stemmed from an outbreak in Wuhan, China—was released from the hospital in February.
- The Washington man says he is “home and continuing to get better.”
- An infectious disease doctor explains what coronavirus treatment looks like and what to expect during recovery.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed multiple cases of novel coronavirus in the U.S. following an outbreak in Wuhan, China, which has sickened and killed thousands worldwide, mainly in China.
The first patient in the U.S. diagnosed with novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, was released from the hospital in early February. The 35-year-old Washington man, who does not want to be publicly identified, told the Associated Press that he is “home and continuing to get better. I ask that the media please respect my privacy and my desire not to be in the public eye.”
The man was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Jan. 21 after traveling to Wuhan in November and December, NBC News reports. He flew back to the U.S. on January 15 and is now recovering at home after his hospitalization.
This novel coronavirus causes flu-like illness and has been confirmed to spread before symptoms appear. U.S. Airports have been screening for coronavirus and health officials have been placing those that test positive under quarantine.
But what does the process of getting better actually entail? Here, a doctor specializing in infectious disease explains what coronavirus treatment looks like, and what patients should expect during the recovery process.
How is novel coronavirus treated?
Backing up a moment: Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are typically transmitted from animals to people. There are seven strains of coronavirus known to infect humans, and many of them cause colds. However, two of them—MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV—can cause severe illness.
Given that COVID-19 is a newly-discovered virus and was only recently found to infect people, there is no specific treatment for it, says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. However, there are certain things that doctors have been doing to offer supportive care.
Because health officials worldwide are trying to stop the spread of the virus—and the World Health Organization has declared an international public health emergency—people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 are quarantined and hospitalized, even if they have mild symptoms, Dr. Adalja says. In the Washington man’s case, he was put in home isolation after he sought care and before his test results came back positive, per a case report his doctors published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
From there, patients are treated based on the symptoms that they have—which can range from a fever and sore throat to serious respiratory tract infections. Coronavirus can progress to bronchitis or even pneumonia, and some people need supplemental oxygen to help them breathe, Dr. Adalja says. If they have a fever, they may also take medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help control it.
The Washington man was given a saline drip in the hospital and medicine to control his nausea, according to the case report. He was also given an experimental anti-viral medication. “People want to see if this medication has any benefit, but it may not be for everyone,” Dr. Adalja says.
Given the risk of person-to-person transmission of the virus, medical professionals are doing their best to limit contact with coronavirus patients (this man was treated with a robot, along with a few medical professionals).
What does recovery look like after coronavirus treatment?
“People with coronavirus don’t necessarily have a long recovery period,” Dr. Adalja says. However, health officials are still encouraging a period of home isolation after someone has novel coronavirus as a precaution. “It hasn’t been established” how long someone might be contagious after they have COVID-19, Dr. Adalja explains.
During the recovery period, you’ll generally want to take it easy (say, drinking plenty of fluids and getting plenty of sleep), similar to how you would recover if you recently had pneumonia, Dr. Adalja says. Other than that, patients should feel normal again fairly quickly.
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