There is no cure for COVID-19, but there are some treatment options. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced they have mild symptoms of COVID-19.
  • There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19.
  • Two drugs can help reduce the duration and mortality rate, but they are not curative therapies. 

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced they both tested positive for COVID-19 early Friday morning. 

As of Friday afternoon, they had mild symptoms but were otherwise feeling fine, according to a statement from Melania Trump and the president’s chief of staff.

Though the vast majority of people who develop COVID-19 will have mild symptoms that can be treated at home with rest, acetaminophen, and fluids, a smaller but significant percentage of people will go on to experience a more severe, potentially life threatening disease requiring hospitalization and breathing support. 

There is no cure or vaccine for COVID-19.

Two drugs — the antiviral remdesivir and the corticosteroid dexamethasone — can help reduce the duration and mortality rate, but they are not curative therapies. 

“We don’t want anyone to have this horrible illness because there’s not a large but certainly a significant but small percent chance that this can be fatal,” Dr. Matthew Heinz, a hospitalist based in Tucson, Arizona, who helped coordinate the domestic Ebola response under the Obama Administration, told Healthline.

The coronavirus knows no boundaries, and anyone can contract it. 

“It’s just human-to-human respiratory droplet-based transmission. This can affect anybody, absolutely anybody,” Heinz said. 

How COVID-19 progresses

COVID-19 progresses differently in each person.

A majority of people will be asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, like loss of taste and smell, a sore throat, or runny nose.

“Many people feel better within a few days, while others take closer to 2 weeks to feel back to normal,” Dr. Manisha Juthani, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist and professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale University, told Healthline.

Some people, however, will go on to experience more severe symptoms about a week after first contracting the virus. 

Sometimes, the milder symptoms will improve only to worsen 7 to 10 days in, according to Juthani.

“Around the 1-week mark, once it becomes clear they have symptoms or have the infection, around 6, 7, 8 days, that’s when you can, in some cases, see a precipitous decline,” Heinz said.

When this occurs, Heinz says the viral load reaches a critical level causing the body to “flip out” and have a hyperactive immune response that triggers widespread inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs.

The progression of the disease largely depends on a person’s risk factors. 

Young, healthy people tend to fare better compared with older adults 65 and up with underlying conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or obesity. 

Men are also more vulnerable. Across the world, the morbidity and mortality rates have been higher among males. 

Heinz, who has been treating severely sick people diagnosed with COVID-19, says obesity is the most common risk factor he’s seen in patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). 

With Trump, who has a few risk factors, it’s unclear how the disease could progress.

How to treat mild COVID-19

People with a mild bout of COVID-19 can recover at home with rest and fluids. 

You can treat it the same way you’d treat the flu or the common cold: Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever, aches, and pains, and stay hydrated. 

Heinz also recommends buying a pulse oximeter to monitor your blood oxygen levels.

These devices, which are sold at pharmacies for $10 to $20, help measure your pulmonary functioning. 

Your blood oxygen level should be within the mid to high 90s range. If the measurement is below 90, the disease is progressing and it’s time to go to the hospital, according to Heinz. 

How severe COVID-19 is treated

Patients with serious symptoms like high fevers, dizziness, and not being able to stand safely may require a ventilator and oxygen support.

Those who are very sick may be given dexamethasone, a corticosteroid shown to lower the death rate in people receiving mechanical ventilation or oxygen support. 

Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication, can also help shorten the duration of the illness, and may be more effective if it is given before ventilation is needed.

A chest X-ray is necessary, even in patients who are asymptomatic, to see if there’s any viral pneumonitis in the lungs.

Heinz says the drug can significantly decrease viral replication, but if it’s administered when someone is already in the ICU, it’s too late. 

Juthani says some recent data supports the use of monoclonal antibodies, which can reduce the amount of virus in patients with symptomatic COVID-19.

“This benefit was greatest for patients that hadn’t mounted their own immune response yet, meaning that this treatment might be best early in disease,” Juthani said, noting this treatment is still being evaluated in clinical trials. 

Lastly, though clinical trial data is not yet available for convalescent plasma, the treatment is available for use via emergency use authorization, so the president may be able to receive it, Juthani added.

Convalescent plasma is when plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 is given to people with active disease. The hope is that beneficial antibodies are passed from one person to another in order to fight the disease.

Though these treatments can aid the recovery process, they’re not curative. They essentially help the immune system do its job of clearing the virus out of the body.  

The bottom line

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump announced they both tested positive for COVID-19 early Friday morning. They’re both experiencing mild symptoms, and while the vast majority of people who contract the coronavirus will be able to recover at home, a small percentage will develop serious symptoms requiring hospitalization.

The progression of the disease and how it’s treated largely depends on the patient’s risk factors. Age, being male, and health conditions like obesity and heart disease increase a person’s chance of severe illness. 

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