COVID symptoms: Expert reveals exactly what you should do if you test positive for the virus now

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COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Australia, with the highly contagious BA.2.12.1 subvariant of Omicron now the dominant strain of coronavirus nationwide.

Associate Professor Stuart Turville from the UNSW’s Kirby Institute says Omicron subvariants BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5 have been detected in Australia.

Watch the video to see more on the new subvariants surging across the world

The new subvariants are likely to displace BA.1 and BA.2 in Australia.

More than two years into the pandemic, many are turning online for information on what to do after testing positive for the virus.

Should those who test positive isolate, and if so, for how long? How important is it to see a doctor? What therapies are available, and who is eligible?

CNN medical analyst Dr Leana Wen, an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health helped to answer these questions.

She is also author of Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health and the mother of two young children.

It seems like a lot of people are getting diagnosed with COVID-19 right now. I have friends who have been very careful throughout the pandemic who are now testing positive. Why is that?

First and most importantly, we are dealing with an extremely contagious subvariant.

The original Omicron variant was already more contagious than Delta and previous variants.

Then, we had BA.2, a subvariant of Omicron that was more contagious than Omicron, and now we have an offshoot of BA.2, called BA.2.12.1, that appears to be even more transmissible.

A more transmissible variant means that the activities we thought were relatively safe before are now higher risk.

This doesn’t mean that we should avoid all activities, but rather that people who have been very careful before may be getting infected now because of how contagious this subvariant is.

Also, people previously infected with Omicron have some degree of protection against this new subvariant; those not previously infected are now more susceptible.

Catching COVID-19 and isolating at home can be a lonely, scary and distressing experience. File image. Credit: damircudic/Getty Images

Fortunately, it does not appear that this variant causes more severe disease in most people, and the vaccine and first booster still provide good protection against hospitalisation and death for those who are infected.

Another reason for the increased number of infections is that people are engaging with one another more, including indoors and without masks.

Any time such interactions occur, there is risk of transmission.

Again, this is not to say that people should never associate with one another, but rather, to be aware of the risk and to take precautions, especially for those with immunocompromise and others at higher risk for severe disease.

What therapies should people take? Should everyone get them?

It’s important you call your medical provider and ask if you are eligible for therapeutics.

I would call regardless of whether you have mild, severe or no symptoms, because you should know what your options are.

There are three main types of therapies, all of which are meant to be taken before someone becomes severely ill, in order to prevent hospitalisation. Generally, the sooner you start on the therapies, the more effective they are.

The three options are antiviral pills (Paxlovid and Lagevrio are the two antivirals that have been granted authorisation), monoclonal antibodies, and remdesivir.

The pills are taken orally, while the other two require injections or infusions.

They are meant for people who are at higher risk for progression to severe disease.

Some of the therapies may not be easily available in your area. Others might have interactions with other medications or treatments you are on.

I highly recommend that people speak with their medical providers in advance of getting ill so that they have a plan.

Someone who is in their 20s and healthy is probably not eligible for these therapies, but someone else who is in their 60s with some chronic medical conditions will be.

Know in advance what you’d get if you test positive and how you would access the therapies, including after hours and on weekends.

If you don’t already have this plan, call your provider immediately after you test positive and discuss the options.

Your local and state health departments will likely have additional information and resources, too.

How do you address sceptics who might ask ‘what’s the point of getting vaccinated if vaccinated people can still become infected’?

Let’s talk about the primary purpose of vaccination.

The most important reason is reduce the likelihood of severe disease and to keep infected people from being hospitalised and dying.

That’s why it’s so important to be up to date with vaccines, to get the initial vaccines and then the boosters, because people who are vaccinated and boosted are much less likely to become severely ill and to die compared with people who are unvaccinated.

Vaccination also reduces the chance of infection, but that risk still exists.

For people who want to further reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19, other precautions remain important, including wearing an N95 or equivalent mask while in indoor public settings, and same-day testing before gatherings, especially if community COVID-19 levels are high.

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