If you are at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 and just tested positive, you should discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider, including taking antivirals.

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Treating COVID-19

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If you test positive for COVID-19 and are at increased risk for severe illness — including people with chronic lung disease, adults 65 and over, or people who currently or used to smoke cigarettes, there are treatment options available. Talk with your healthcare provider right away because treatments taken when your symptoms are mild may keep them from becoming severe. Your healthcare provider can help determine which treatment is the best option for you. Visit our website for more information.

What to Expect

Antiviral medications can help your immune system fight back by helping stop the virus from multiplying your body. This lowers the amount of virus in your body with the goal of you having less severe symptoms and recovering more quickly. Antiviral therapy is not a cure for COVID-19. You are still contagious and can spread the virus to others. Be sure to monitor your symptoms and continue to self-isolate until 10 days have passed without using fever reducing medications, and your COVID-19 symptoms are improving.

What Are My Treatment Options?

If you are recovering at home from mild-to-moderate COVID-19, you may qualify for one of these antiviral treatments depending on your age, health history and how long you’ve had symptoms. The following treatments are authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration: 

  • Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir/ritonavir): May be prescribed for adults and children who are at least 12 years old and weigh at least 88 lbs. It is not recommended for people with serious kidney or liver disease. This treatment is taken by mouth (as a pill) and must be given within five days after the first symptoms of COVID-19 appear.
    • COVID-19 rebound is a recurrence of symptoms and a positive test after a negative result within 2-8 days of having finished Paxlovid. In these instances, continued monitoring of symptoms and additional periods of isolation are recommended.
  • Lagevrio (molnupiravir): May be prescribed for adults 18 years and older. It is not recommended during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. This treatment is taken by mouth (as a pill) and must be given within five days after the first symptoms of COVID-19 appear.
  • Veklury (remdesivir): May be prescribed for anyone over 28 days old. This treatment is administered via intravenous infusion (IV) at a treatment center for three consecutive days and must begin within seven days after the first symptoms of COVID-19 appear. This medication is also given to individuals hospitalized by COVID-19.

Talk with your healthcare provider about your treatment options. Based on your health history and symptoms, they can help you begin treatment if that is the best course of action. If antiviral medications are determined not to be the best treatment option for you, you may be recommended supportive care at home unless your symptoms worsen.  

Who Is Eligible?

Antiviral medication to treat COVID-19 is authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and used for patients who:

Knowing if you are high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 allows you to act quickly if you test positive for COVID-19 so you are less likely to develop severe illness requiring hospitalization. You may be high-risk if you are:

  • 50 years or older, 
  • unvaccinated,
  • a current or former smoker, 
  • overweight, 
  • diagnosed with chronic lung, heart, or kidney disease, 
  • diabetic, 
  • Pregnant, or 
  • immunocompromised

Where Do I Get Antiviral Treatment?

Antiviral medications require a prescription from a healthcare provider. If you are high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and test positive, speak with your healthcare provider right away. You may also be prescribed antiviral medications directly from your pharmacist. Speak with your pharmacist if you have trouble getting in to see your primary care provider right away. Your symptoms must have started no later than within the last five days to begin treatment.

You can also visit a Test to Treat location, a clinic that is set up to confirm your COVID-19 diagnosis, review your medical history and prescribe appropriate treatment. If you still have questions about treatment, contact our Lung HelpLine staff at 800-LUNGUSA.

Antiviral treatment can boost your immune system if taken promptly at the onset of symptoms of some infectious respiratory diseases. Learn more about when to contact your healthcare provider how this treatment can help you feel better faster.

Antiviral medications can be effective in treating viral infections if used promptly when symptoms, such as fever, aches and cough, first appear. Pregnant women are one group at higher risk for severe illness from respiratory infections due to changes in the body caused by pregnancy. Early treatment is important because a serious respiratory illness may be harmful to your developing baby. It is important to call your doctor right away – within 48 hours of when symptoms begin.

While anyone may consider taking an antiviral, people at high-risk for severe illness are specifically recommended to do so. Your doctor may ask you to come in to test for what type of illness is making you sick. They may prescribe antiviral treatment with the goal to make you feel less sick and for a shorter length of time.ng an antiviral, people at high-risk for severe illness are specifically recommended to do so.

Once taken, antiviral medications work quickly to boost the immune system. In the airways of your lungs, where the respiratory infection is occurring, the virus is attacking healthy cells and creating copies of itself that further spread the infection while your immune system is working to stop the viral spread. Antivirals work by halting the attack, so the virus is unable to attach to a healthy cell or copy itself. This stops your illness from spreading so your body can focus on healing and recovery. Antivirals only work if taken as soon as possible. If you are in a high-risk group, make a plan with your doctor to connect quickly when you become ill with a respiratory infection so you can get tested, treated, and begin the healing process before serious damage is done. Learn more at Lung.org.

Page last updated: October 4, 2023

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