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Understanding COVID-19 Testing and Treatment

Understanding COVID-19 Testing and Treatment

This article is for people who want to learn more about COVID-19. The goal of this activity is to help you work with and talk to your doctor about testing and treatment for COVID-19.

You will learn about:

  • What COVID-19 is and how it can affect the body

  • Who can have long-lasting effects from COVID-19

  • Testing for COVID-19

  • Medicines to help treat COVID-19

  • Talking to your doctor about staying protected

  • Questions to ask your doctor and healthcare team

Medicines listed in this activity have either a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval or have been given an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA to treat or prevent COVID-19.

The information on COVID-19 is continually changing. The content in this activity is accurate based on the information that was available at the time of its publication. This resource is provided for educational and informational purposes only. We do not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an illness caused by a type of virus called a coronavirus. Anyone can get COVID-19 at any age. Many people can have no symptoms or mild illness and recover fairly quickly. But for some, COVID-19 can be severe and even deadly.

COVID-19 can be especially dangerous for people who have certain health conditions such as:

  • Obesity or being overweight

  • Diabetes

  • Moderate to severe asthma and certain chronic (long-term) lung, kidney, or liver conditions

  • Certain heart and blood vessel or nerve and brain conditions

  • Cancer

  • A weakened immune system

All conditions are not listed here, so talk to your doctor about if you may be at a higher risk for severe illness. If you're 50 or older or haven't been vaccinated for COVID-19, you're also more likely to get very sick.

Anyone Can Have Long-Lasting Effects

COVID-19 can damage many different body systems and organs. Because of this, anyone -- even people who only had mild illness -- can have long-lasting symptoms, complications (additional problems), and post-COVID conditions.

Post-COVID conditions -- sometimes called "long COVID" -- are a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that you can have for weeks or months after first being infected with the virus. Anyone can have post-COVID conditions, even people who only had mild illness or no symptoms and those who didn't test positive or even know they were infected.

Testing for COVID-19

If you have symptoms, you should get tested right away. If you were exposed to the virus but don't have symptoms, you should wait 5 days before testing. Testing too soon may give you inaccurate results.

COVID-19 viral tests that check samples from your nose or throat to see if you have a current infection include:

  • PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests that tend to be the most reliable, whether you have symptoms or not. But they should not be used if you tested positive in the last 90 days

  • Antigen tests that often give results in 15 to 30 minutes. These can be less accurate than PCR tests and may not find an early infection, especially if you don't have symptoms. Self-tests or at-home tests are often antigen tests

Your Test Results and Treatment

If your COVID-19 viral test result is positive it means the virus was found in your body and you have a current infection. Negative means the test didn't detect virus, but you may still have an infection and may need to test again in 48 hours.

COVID-19 can be dangerous, especially if you're at a higher risk for severe illness, so talk to your doctor to see if they recommend treatment for you. Medicines that can lower your chances of getting sick enough to be in the hospital (hospitalization) and death have been authorized to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in certain people who are more likely to have severe illness.

Medicines to Treat COVID-19

Medicines authorized to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in certain people who are more likely to have severe illness include:

  • Antivirals that work to stop the virus from making more viruses (replicating) in your body

  • Monoclonal antibodies that bind to specific areas on the virus, stopping it from attaching to and entering (infecting) your healthy cells

It will be important to contact your doctor right away about treatment as you'll need to start it within a certain number of days after you first get symptoms.

Also, all treatments can have side effects. So be sure to ask your doctor or a healthcare team member about any that may happen with the treatment you're getting.

Talking to Your Doctor

Talk to your doctor about testing, treatment, and ways to help protect yourself and those around you.

Getting vaccinated is also important as the vaccines are effective at helping to prevent infection, serious illness, and death from COVID-19. It also helps lower the spread of COVID-19.

Protection from the vaccine can start to weaken after a few months, so getting COVID-19 vaccine boosters is important too. Most viruses constantly change, or mutate, over time. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the virus that causes COVID-19 has mutated and resulted in different variants of concern. If you're up to date on your vaccine series and boosters, you'll likely have stronger protection against COVID-19 and its variants.

Dr David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist, talks about COVID-19 and ways to help stay safe, including why testing is an important part of that.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

Questions you can ask your doctor and healthcare team about COVID-19 can include:

  • What can I do to help keep me and those around me protected?

  • What should I do if I'm exposed to the virus and when should I get tested?

  • Am I at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19?

  • If I get COVID-19, what treatments might I be eligible for, when would I need to start them, and what are their possible side effects?

  • Which vaccines are available for COVID-19, and how many shots will I need? And when should I get a booster?

  • Where can I find more information and resources?

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You have successfully completed the program Understanding COVID-19 Testing and Treatment.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:

Symptoms of COVID-19

Understanding Your Risk

Long COVID or Post-COVID Conditions

COVID-19 Testing: What You Need to Know

Self-Testing at Home or Anywhere

COVID-19 Treatments

Vaccines for COVID-19

PDF Downloads

Patient Handout

Información para el paciente

Authors and Disclosures


David A Wohl, MD

Professor, Institute of Global Health and Infectious DiseasesThe University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill, North Carolina

David A Wohl, MD, has the following relevant financial relationships: Consultant or advisor for: Gilead; Janssen; Merck; ViiV. Research funding from: Gilead; Merck; ViiV.

Clinician Reviewer

Karen Badal, MD, MPH

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Karen Badal, MD, MPH, has no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has no relevant financial relationships.


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