As the coronavirus pandemic continues, doctors and researchers are learning more about the COVID-19 and receiving additional questions from patients.

Is losing a sense of smell a sign of COVID-19 infection?

A loss of the sense of smell and/or taste is a symptom being reported among patients with COVID-19. Studies suggest that this symptom can last for up to 4-6 weeks. If you are a Penn employee, please notify your supervisor if you have lost a sense of smell or taste. If you are a patient, this symptom may warrant testing, depending on your travel history and/or the presence of other symptoms. You should contact your primary care doctor to discuss further.

When can I stop home isolation after a confirmed or presumed COVID infectious? Am I still contagious?

If you are a healthcare provider, please follow your supervisor's recommendations. If you are immunocompromised, please discuss this with your medical provider. Otherwise, if you will not have a test to determine if you are still contagious (most people will not) you can discontinue isolation when:

  1. You have had NO fevers for at least 72 hours (3 full days of no fever without using fever-reducing medicine)
  2. Other symptoms have improved (i.e., your cough or breathing have improved)
  3. At least 10 days have passed since symptom onset

If you had a positive COVID-19 test AND have remained asymptomatic, you may discontinue isolation when at least 10 days have passed since your first positive COVID-19 test. It is important to still wear a face cover over your nose and mouth in public settings after isolation is discontinued.

Are there supplements or medications to take to reduce the risk of getting COVID-19?

Great question! No supplements or medications have been shown to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Excessive intake of supplements can be harmful. Many drugs are being studied in clinical trials for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 but the results will take months.

Follow these precautions to best prevent COVID-19:

  • Avoid close contact with sick individuals
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Practice “social distancing” by staying home when possible and maintaining 6 feet of distance
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol

What are the findings around skin rashes or reactions?

There are reports of skin issues in COVID-19 patients, but these symptoms alone don’t mean you have the virus. Hive-like itchy rashes, pink-reddish spots, or reddish-purple patches on the toes or fingers of COVID-19 patients have mostly been seen in children and young adults. These symptoms seem to follow a mild case of COVID-19. Little is known about why this happens. Based on just this symptom, you would not qualify for testing.

You should watch for symptoms such as fever, dry cough, or shortness of breath and you should self-quarantine, practice social distancing, and hand washing. If you develop more symptoms, notify your provider. Because they care for vulnerable patients, healthcare personnel with symptoms like finger/toe/foot rashes may be tested for COVID even without additional symptoms. Therefore, they should notify their supervisors, Occupational Health Services and their own providers.

What symptoms would prompt me to go to the ER?

If you would like more information about your specific symptoms, please access our Symptom Checker below. Emergency warning signs of severe infection that you should be aware of include significant trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in your chest, new confusion or difficulty arousing, or bluish lips or face. If you develop any of these symptoms, or any symptoms you believe are life-threatening, you should call 911 or proceed as soon as possible to the closest ER. If you have less severe symptoms and are unsure about going to the ED, you should contact your medical provider. If you are planning to go to the ER and suspect you may have COVID-19, you should notify the ER immediately on arriving (or the EMS personnel when they arrive at your residence).

How accurate is COVID testing?

Since COVID-19 tests are new, knowing the accuracy is challenging. The accuracy and predictive values of SARS-CoV-2 testing have not been evaluated, and the accuracy of testing depends on which test is used, the type of specimen tested, how it was collected and the duration of illness.

No medical test is 100% accurate for many reasons, including error and timing of the test. Because it is possible to get a negative result even when you have coronavirus, it is important to be careful even when you receive a negative result. Some doctors recommend quarantining yourself until symptom-free for at least 72 hours.

How is coronavirus different from flu?

There is an overlap between symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu, common cold, or allergies. It may be difficult to distinguish based on symptoms alone. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, dry cough, and fatigue. Other symptoms include shortness of breath which can range from mild to severe, generalized muscle aches and sore throat. Diarrhea, nausea, runny nose, and red eyes are reported but less common.

These symptoms can also be seen with the flu or other respiratory viruses, but those viruses have largely receded at this time. Seasonal allergies rarely cause a fever and severe shortness of breath. The only definite way to know whether you have COVID-19 or influenza is to be tested by a healthcare provider. You can further discuss your symptoms with your provider to determine if you meet the criteria for testing.

What if I don't have any sanitizer?

Washing your hands with soap and water is the recommended method of keeping your hands clean. If soap and water are not available, you can use hand sanitizer, but it must have an alcohol content of at least 60% to be effective.

Should I wear a mask when I go out?

The World Health Organization urges everyone to use masks wisely. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important in slowing the spread of the virus.

The CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made from home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional voluntary public health measure, and these are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. You may also purchase masks from stores such as Walmart, Amazon, and Target. Surgical masks and N95 respirators continue to be critical supplies reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders as recommended by current CDC guidance.

Can I still take a walk in the neighborhood?

Unless specific local rules are prohibiting it, going outside and taking a walk where you stay at least 6' away from others can be a great, safe way to stay healthy. The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. Please check your local city, county, and state government website for specific guidelines.

Is it still safe to receive packages?

The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low.

Can I get treated with Remdesivir?

Remdesivir has been recently approved by the FDA to treat severe patients with COVID-19. Currently, Remdesivir is only available to hospitalized patients at certain institutions who have the medication available, or through a clinical trial. However, the results of these trials will not be available for months. Learn more about clinical trials at Penn.

Should I get the flu vaccine? Will the flu vaccine increase my risk of getting COVID-19?

Getting the flu vaccine every year is the best way to prevent infection with influenza, a virus that can cause many of the same symptoms as COVID-19, including fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and even death. Flu vaccines are usually available in the fall each year. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s even more important to be vaccinated against the flu to help prevent influenza, avoid a mistaken diagnosis of COVID-19 and preserve healthcare resources. There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccine increases the risk of getting COVID-19.

Should I take Tylenol (acetaminophen), Motrin (ibuprofen), or something else for my symptoms?

There are no approved at home treatments for COVID-19 at this time. For symptom management, we recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) to control fever or pain. If Tylenol doesn’t help your symptoms, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) can be used, but only at recommended doses.

Do supplements like witch hazel, ginger root, or lemon help prevent or treat COVID-19?

No supplements or medications have been shown to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to practice social distancing, to wash your hands regularly, and to wear a mask when in public.

Does UV light kill coronavirus?

Ultraviolet (UV) rays are part of sunlight. Studies show that UV light can be used to kill airborne COVID-19 particles and disinfect surfaces. For this reason, some hospitals, subways, and other public locations are using UV light to help disinfect areas when they are not occupied by people. While helpful for cleaning these areas, UV light has not been shown to prevent COVID-19 infection in humans or to kill the virus in infected patients.  The safety and efficacy of many UV light devices sold to the public are not routinely reviewed, so these should be used with caution. Overexposure to ultraviolet rays can have harmful health effects and is a major risk factor for cancer. For these reasons, you should wear sunscreen on exposed skin when you’re in the sun for long periods.

Does zinc help prevent or treat COVID-19?

No supplements or medications have been shown to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. Zinc is currently being studied for both prevention and treatment of COVID-19, but no data are available yet. If you’re interested in taking zinc supplements, speak with your doctor first.

Does hydroxychloroquine treat coronavirus?

It is not at all clear whether Hydroxychloroquine is beneficial in preventing or treating COVID-19. It is currently under investigation in a variety of clinical trials - both to prevent COVID-19 and for treatment of COVID-19. Penn Medicine is participating in several clinical trials of medications to fight COVID-19, including hydroxychloroquine. There are risks with taking this medication long-term, and it is not currently recommended for patients to take outside of a clinical trial and not it if they do not have an established COVID-19 infection.

I'm pregnant. What special precautions should I take?

Excellent question! We do not currently know if pregnant women have a greater chance of getting sick from COVID-19 than the general public nor whether they are more likely to have serious illness as a result. Pregnant women experience changes in their bodies that may increase their risk of some infections. With viruses from the same family as COVID-19, and other viral respiratory infections, such as influenza, women have had a higher risk of developing severe illness. It is always important for pregnant women to protect themselves from illnesses.

The CDC and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists both currently recommend that pregnant women follow the same precautions as others in their communities. Learn more about Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the Coronavirus: What We Know

Is it safe to donate blood?

There is no evidence that the coronavirus can be transmissible by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases worldwide of transmissions for any respiratory virus including the coronavirus. Blood donations are essential to keeping essential supplies of blood in blood banks around the country, and the Red Cross highly encourages healthy people to donate in this time of need. The CDC is supporting blood centers by providing recommendations that will keep donors and staff safe. Examples of these recommendations include spacing donor chairs 6 feet apart, thoroughly adhering to environmental cleaning practices, and encouraging donors to make donation appointments ahead of time.

What is shortness of breath?

Shortness of breath refers broadly to the feeling of chest tightness, a "hunger" for air, suffocation-like sensations, breathlessness, or an inability to breathe. While shortness of breath can be an associated symptom of coronavirus, it can also normally occur in healthy people due to extreme temperatures, strenuous exercises, high altitude, anxiety, and stress. When assessing your shortness of breath, it is important to consider other factors such as potential exposures, the severity of your breathlessness, any progression in symptoms, and other potential signs of infection.

What should I do if my COVID test is negative?

A negative test result means that it is unlikely you have COVID-19. Your result may read "negative" or "not detected." Sometimes there are false negatives, which means you have the disease but the test doesn't detect it. If you have a fever, cough, or cold symptoms, you should remain home and minimize contact with others. If you are concerned about your symptoms, call your primary care provider.

If you don’t have a primary care provider, you can still call our Penn Medicine Coronavirus Hotline at 1-833-983-1350. If you are feeling better, you should continue to take precautions and practice social distancing to avoid getting sick. Our advice, whether you test positive or negative, is that you should be without symptoms for 72 hours before ending self-quarantine.

How does COVID affect exercise? Can I still exercise? Will exercise affect my susceptibility to COVID?

There are many physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise. The novel coronavirus pandemic is disrupting every aspect of life — and exercise routines are no exception. COVID-19 closures of parks, gyms, and fitness studios are making it harder to exercise. However, exercise is important to maintain health, prevent weight gain, reduce stress, anxiety and improve sleep. Some studies even show that regular, moderate-intensity exercise may have immune-boosting benefits, but the impact of exercise on susceptibility to COVID-19 is not known.

During this time, it is important to exercise safely and maintain social distancing. You should wear a face cover if within 6 feet of others, even when exercising. There are many excellent articles and videos with exercise routines that can be done at home or outside by yourself. If you have any chronic medical conditions or have not exercised in a while, it is best to check with your physician before picking up a new exercise regimen.

Is it safe to use cigarettes, marijuana, or CBD oil during the pandemic? Will they help prevent COVID-19?

Smoking marijuana, nicotine, or vape e-cigarettes leads to damage to lungs and airways that may put you at further risk of harm from a COVID-19 infection. Cannabis and nicotine are among many substances currently being studied in the context of COVID-19, but no data are available yet. In the interim, the harms of smoking to your airways are well-established in the medical literature.

Does air conditioning increase the spread of COVID-19?

There have been no reports of the spread of COVID via air conditioning in the United States at this time. One study from a restaurant in China described the transmission of COVID-19 to nearby diners possibly associated with the air conditioning, but close proximity of patrons and poor ventilation in the restaurant also played a role.

To date, there has been no evidence of transmission through re-circulated air in buildings such as apartment complexes; it is unlikely that COVID-19 can travel long distances through vents. It is important to continue to wear masks and maintain good hand hygiene, as well as regularly disinfect public spaces, however, at this time; there is no evidence to suggest that air conditioning units will further spread the virus.

Can coronavirus survive on copper surfaces?

While copper has been shown to have many antimicrobial properties and coronavirus has been shown to die faster on copper than most other surfaces, it can still last on copper surfaces such as pennies, teakettles, cookware, etc for around 4 hours. Copper may damage the cell membranes, or "envelopes" of the virus, generate stress on the viral cells and create toxic hydrogen peroxide, as well as interfere with the proteins that keep the cells alive. We are still learning from research on the antimicrobial properties and the most effective ways to use copper in every-day life to keep us healthy.

Does vitamin D help prevent or treat COVID-19?

Vitamin D is among the many medications being studied in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. However, researchers are still trying to evaluate vitamin D's role in preventing or treating COVID-19, and there are no established recommendations for its use at this time. It is important to discuss with your physician whether vitamin D supplementation may be appropriate for you.

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