Ask an expert - PRACHI SHAH, FAMILY MEDICINE PRACTITIONER
Last updated 1/17/2024 at 3:49pm | View PDF
What should we know about the new COVID
COVID-19 is certainly not making daily headlines as it was a few years ago, but that doesn't mean the coronavirus no longer requires attention.
Dr. Prachi Shah, a family medicine practitioner with UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Medical Group in Hinsdale, said the current and most widespread COVID-19 variant, JN.1, is more contagious than its predecessors but appears to be causing less severe illness.
"The JN.1 variant is a strain of the Omicron virus. It's not any more serious but it's just easily transmissible," Shah said. "We've been seeing a lot more COVID cases in our office in the last couple of months."
As with past variants, the symptoms typically resemble cold-like signs, with congestion, a fever and lots of fatigue. While these symptoms might not necessarily indicate COVID, Shah encouraged people to take a test to determine whether it is or isn't.
"If you do have a fever, I always want you to test for COVID at home," she advised. "A lot of times COVID is just presenting as a cold. Give it two days (of fevering) before testing. It may not come back positive within the first 24 hours of symptoms."
Those who do test positive can reach out to their primary care physician to see if they are eligible for the medication Paxlovid.
"They usually feel better within the first 24 hours of starting the medication," she said.
And try to avoid close contact with others while contagious, which is generally 10 days after the onset of symptoms. The elderly and those with underlying health issues could be at higher risk if exposed.
"Wear a mask if you're going to be around a bunch of people," Shah said.
The most important preventative step is receiving the latest COVID shot.
"The current one does target the most recent (JN.1) variant, so it helps. The vaccine isn't going to prevent you from getting COVID, but it will keep it from being more severe by having those antibodies in your system," she explained.
The common cold that is typical this time of year seems to be extending its stay in many cases.
"The symptoms seem to be a little bit worse than they were in the past. I've been seeing people sick for two to three weeks with their symptoms instead of a few days," she said.
The respiratory illness RSV as well as the seasonal flu also has been making the rounds this winter. COVID and flu cases spiked in November and December around the holidays, but that activity has calmed down recently.
She suggested purchasing a HEPA air purifier to help eliminate pollen, mold, bacteria and other airborne particles. And everyone should remember to wash their hands, get enough sleep and stay hydrated to support good health, Shah underscored.
As for COVID, the worst impact may be behind us, she said. But it's not gone.
"I think it will be something that we have to get comfortable with," Shah said. "It's sticking around and I don't think it's going away anytime soon."
- by Ken Knutson