Given the ease with which the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads, people have found themselves positive without knowing how they got the virus. For many of those infected the disease will be mild. For some it may progress to the level of a “bad cold” with fever, muscle aches and pains, sore throat, congestion, and exhaustion. Unpredictably, for some it may get so severe that they will need to be admitted to the hospital. What should you do if you find out that you are positive?

First and foremost, isolate yourself. Notify anyone with whom you’ve spent 15 minutes or more in the preceding 48 hours whether or not they’ve been vaccinated. Even if you masked, distanced, and washed your hands there is still a possibility of transmission. They should restrict their activities and watch for symptoms. Public health won’t be able to contact people as they are completely overwhelmed, but an aware population is less likely to spread illness.

Rest. Drink a variety of liquids to avoid dehydration. For fever, aches, and pains you can use acetaminophen (Tylenol, Excedrin, and others) or an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and others). The concern early on that these medications might make COVID worse did not pan out so if you’re able to use them you can, as long as you respect the instructions on the label.

Be on the lookout for trouble breathing, chest pain and pressure, confusion, lightheadedness, a high fever that doesn’t respond to medication or persists. They indicate a need to go to the hospital. If symptoms are going to progress, it’s often between days 4 to 8. The oral medications that might stop the virus aren’t available yet.

There is absolutely no proof of benefit from any herbal preparations, Vitamin C or D or any other supplement. Some over-the-counter medicines can be help with the symptoms but won’t affect how long you’ll be sick. For example, properly used nasal sprays for the nasal congestion; dextromethorphan for coughs; and dimenhydrinate (Gravol, and others) for nausea. Dry air makes congestion and cough worse. You can use a humidifier. A hot shower also helps.

Stock your home with a thermometer, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and rehydration liquids. A pulse oximeter is a portable device that fits on your finger and painlessly tells you what the oxygen saturation in your blood is. This can be a sign that the disease is progressing, flagging that you need to go to the hospital. It’s not essential but some have found it reassuring to have one.

If you’re sick, supplies can be delivered. Have them left on your doorstep. You should wait for the delivery person to leave before retrieving them.

It’s reasonable to feel overwhelmed and depressed. Being sick at the best of times is not easy and this is not the best of times. Give yourself time to recover. It may take weeks to get your strength back. That isn’t unusual or a sign that something is wrong. It’s still best to avoid getting sick in the first place but if you should, you now know what to do.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGill Medical School as well as an Attending Physician in the Emergency Department of the McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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