Each week, the Houston Chronicle’s health team works to answer frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and how it’s affecting our local community. This week, we delve into at-home care, how to know when to seek treatment and the “flurona” hype.
Start by assessing your risk factors. Are you older? Obese? Diabetic? Do you have heart disease? Certain health conditions can put you at greater risk of suffering more severe symptoms, even if you have been vaccinated against COVID.
Discuss your status with a medical professional as soon as possible after testing positive. It’s a good idea to establish a plan with a trusted physician for how you will manage your infection, said Dr. Pedro Piedra, a professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine.
“What starts as mild can become more severe,” Piedra said.
Virtual urgent care is a great first step for patients in need of immediate advice. In Houston, telemedicine apps are used by the major hospital and clinic systems, including Kelsey-Seybold, Memorial Hermann and Methodist Hospital.
Doing a virtual visit with your primary care provider — if you have one — is ideal. If you don’t have a primary care provider, you can often still access virtual services, regardless of your insurance status. Memorial Hermann’s eVisit virtual consultation service is available seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m; Houston Methodist’s Virtual Urgent Care is available 24/7.
Once you’ve established a care plan, be sure to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated with tea and water. According to experts, over-the-counter medications may be helpful for managing mild COVID cases. Consult your health care provider about when and how to take pain relievers, nasal decongestants, fever reducers or expectorants.
How do I know when my COVID is serious enough to seek in-person care?
Everyone has a different threshold for pain and discomfort. But there are certain red flags you shouldn’t ignore. Talk to a trusted physician about your personal threshold for seeking care in person.
Ultimately, Piedra said, “You have to use your own judgment because you know your body best.”
Signs you should seek immediate care include: Shortness of breath, chest pain or palpitations, extreme fatigue, prolonged fever, excessive coughing, severe headaches, abdominal pain or nausea.
Avoid the emergency room unless absolutely necessary — it’s not for COVID testing or mild cases, said Dr. Annamaria Macaluso Davidson, a preventive care expert and vice president of employee health at Memorial Hermann. Virtual visits and urgent care clinics are often better options for all but the most severe symptoms, she said.
“Reserve the ER for people who really need care,” Davidson said. “The ER is for if you are feeling really sick, having trouble breathing or loss of consciousness.”
What do doctors know about the connection between omicron and long haul COVID?
In short, it’s too soon to tell whether omicron survivors will be plagued with long haul COVID — a little-understood condition that leaves as many as one in three COVID patients with persistent brain fog, memory problems, headaches and sleep loss.
“Omicron can be generally mind, which is wonderful for people who are boosted and vaccinated,” Davidson said.
Many people who develop breakthrough COVID infections have a low viral load, meaning they may not even know they have the virus, she said. That suggests omicron may result in fewer long-haul sufferers than previous variants. Those who have high levels of virus in their body are significantly more likely to have bad outcomes.
It may be months or years before doctors know whether omicron’s milder footprint translates to fewer long-haulers.
Is ‘flurona’ real?
The term “flurona” has become a popular way to describe the double-whammy of being infected with both COVID and the flu at the same time. Sounds scary, right?
The term is more of a catchword than a condition, said Dr.Wesley Long, Houston Methodist’s medical director of diagnostic microbiology.
Influenza and coronavirus do not combine into a “magical hybrid virus,” the microbiologist said.
“Flurona” isn’t an actual disease, and COVID-19 and flu are not the only viral illnesses circulating around Houston this winter. Other seasonal viruses such as adenovirus and human metapneumovirus are also prevalent.
While being sick with more than one virus can add up to more severe sickness, they each cause distinct illnesses and have their own treatments, Dr. Flor Munoz, an infectious disease specialist at Texas Children’s Hospital, recently told the Chronicle.
Flu season is expected to peak in March.