COVID-19 treatment: What you need to know
If you have tested positive for COVID-19 you may be eligible for antiviral treatment that reduces your risk of severe illness and hospitalization. Antiviral medications help your body fight off viruses that cause disease, reduce the symptoms of a viral infection, and shorten the length of illness.
A new oral antiviral medication developed by Pfizer, called Paxlovid, has been granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for those at high risk for severe illness or hospitalization due to a COVID-19 infection. In clinical trials, this antiviral has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 89% when compared to a placebo.
Do I qualify for a COVID-19 antiviral?
Paxlovid is for adults and children 12 and older who are at higher risk for developing serious COVID-19 disease that may lead to hospitalization and/or death.
Paxlovid should be considered for patients who meet the following criteria:
- Test positive for SARS-CoV-2 (with PCR or antigen test, including at-home tests), AND
- Have symptoms consistent with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 & onset no more than 5 days, AND
- Have one or more risk factors for severe COVID:
o Anyone over the age of 65
o People over age 12 who have weakened immune systems
o Those with conditions that increase the risk of serious effects of COVID-19—like asthma, cancer, liver disease, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, disabilities, HIV, pregnancy, smokers, and obesity.
o Being unvaccinated or not being up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations
If you test positive for COVID-19 and believe you are at high risk, the first step is to speak with your healthcare provider. When prescribing Paxlovid, healthcare providers generally consider the following:
- A positive COVID-19 test
- Symptoms consistent with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 such as fever, sore throat, cough, or headache
- If the patient is within five days of symptom onset
- If the patient has one or more risk factors for severe COVID-19
If you meet all the criteria and there are no drug interactions to consider, you may be eligible for a Paxlovid prescription.
Drug interactions with COVID-19 antiviral pills
There are some common medications that interact with Paxlovid, which is why it is essential to speak with your healthcare provider before taking this medication. These medications include, but are not limited to:
- Anti-rejection medications for people with organ transplants
- Blood thinners
- Cholesterol-lowering medications like Lipitor
- Heart and /or Blood pressure medications
The dosage may also need to be adjusted for those with kidney or liver disease.
Side effects you need to know about
Some people may experience an allergic reaction when taking the medication. If you have any hives, swelling of the mouth or lips, or trouble breathing when taking this medication, you should seek emergency medical care right away.
Other Paxlovid side effects may include:
- Altered sense of taste (most common, goes away when you stop the medication)
- High blood pressure
- Liver problems
- Muscle aches
- Stomach pain
Any severe side effects of Paxlovid should be immediately discussed with your provider.
How common is COVID-19 rebound?
There have been reported cases of “rebound” (You test positive or have recurring symptoms within days of completing treatment) COVID-19 after taking Paxlovid. This usually occurs within two to eight days of completing the five-day course. Some patients test positive again, but remain symptom-free, whereas others develop symptoms.
It is unclear how often Paxlovid rebound occurs, but it is uncommon. It is known that the rebound illness is usually milder and unlikely to require hospitalization. If you experience a rebound, the CDC recommends that you restart isolation for five days. At this time “rebound” does NOT require a second round of Paxlovid.
Where to get Paxlovid?
Most healthcare providers can prescribe Paxlovid if you meet the right criteria. If you are at high risk, it is essential to get care as soon as possible, as the medication works best if started within five days of symptom onset.
At many GoHealth Urgent Care centers, we are able to prescribe and fill COVID-19 oral antiviral treatment if deemed clinically necessary by your provider. Save your spot or schedule a Virtual Visit for an evaluation with one of our providers for COVID-19 testing and treatment.