Ask the Pharmacist – more COVID questions

Q. Covid-19 seems to be running rampant in many communities now and so many people I know have had it. If I get it, what are the guidelines that I need to follow? Would that also mean that I would not need to get another dose of the vaccine if that becomes available to me?

A. Those are all good questions. Almost everywhere you turn, COVID appears to be there. It has shown up in many homes, workplaces, schools and clubs etc.. For the most part, the symptoms range from mild to moderate and can include, but are not limited to, any of the following;

• Sore throat
• Runny nose
• Fever
• Headache
• Nausea/vomiting
• Cough
• Shortness of breath
• Muscle aches
• Fatigue
• Loss of sense of smell and/or taste

These symptoms have remained fairly consistent over the course of this pandemic however the severity seems to have lessened. That is great news but keep in mind that 1,662 Ontarians were in the hospital due to Covid just last Thursday (Apr. 21st) and 21 more people died as a result of this virus.

The variants thus far have not only proven to be much more contagious than the original virus, but also less problematic. With these staggering numbers, though the hospitalizations are on the rise, it is nowhere near the alarming percentages that the original virus sent people to the emergency room for. That being said, the virus is still causing major problems for some individuals, namely the unvaccinated and people with other underlying health issues.

While most can treat this new variant on their own, it is important to know when to seek help. If you are experiencing any difficulty breathing or you are not able to rouse your sick loved one, then seek medical attention right away. But for the most part, many people have mentioned that their experience with Covid was nothing more than what a nasty cold normally feels like. Others however, have noticed an overly reactive airway which has triggered a long-lasting cough. That leads us to the next issue at hand.

Though it may be nearly impossible to avoid getting Covid, it may still be prudent to do our best to avoid contracting it as it is still unknown what the long-term effects might be. It will be interesting to learn if these latest variants will result in Long Covid or Long Haulers. Only time will tell so consider declining an invitation to attend a Covid party that your neighbour might be having to just get Covid and be done with it.

On that note, what are the protocols if you come down with any of the above symptoms? The first thing you can do is perform a rapid antigen test (RAT) to confirm. A reminder that a negative test does not mean that you do not have Covid, but rather that you may not have a high enough viral load yet to be detected on the RAT. Therefore, it is suggested to perform another test in a day or two to be sure. It is also important to be aware that you need to wait the full 15 minutes before you can safely read your test as negative. Some positive RATs show up nearly instantaneously where others may appear to be negative at the onset but after 15 minutes show a second faint line. Any second line whether faint or blatantly obvious is to be regarded as a positive RAT. This means that whether your symptoms are mild, moderate, severe or non-existent the following are mandatory;

• You must isolate for a minimum of a full 5 days (with the day you test positive counting as day 0) if you are fully vaccinated OR under 12 years of age
• You must isolate for a minimum of a full 10 days if you are over 12 years of age and not fully vaccinated OR if you are immunocompromised.
• If after your allotted isolation time you are still exhibiting symptoms and are not improving, you must continue to isolate until the symptoms are lessening for more than 24 hours.
• After your isolation period is complete, you may leave your home BUT YOU MUST REMAIN MASKED AT ALL TIMES for the next 5 days (10 days if immunocompromised). This means you are permitted to run errands and participate in activities, providing you keep your mask on. This of course does imply that you are not allowed to go to a restaurant or bar during this next stage since you would need to remove your mask to eat and drink your meal.

Does my entire household have to isolate? That all depends on their age and vaccination status. Anyone 18 years and older who has had a booster dose for Covid and anyone under 18 years of age that is fully vaccinated (2 doses) do not need to isolate with you however, they should monitor for symptoms of the virus and begin their isolation if/when the symptoms arise. They should not, however, visit any high-risk individuals or participate in any activity that requires them to remove their mask for the next 10 days. We are very contagious in the days preceding the onset of symptoms as well as the first few days after so if we know we have been in close contact with Covid, it makes sense to reduce the spread by keeping our distance and wearing a mask.

Anyone who has tested positive for Covid in the last 90 days is exempt from these isolation rules as the virus provides you with added immune protection and, thus, there is less risk of you contracting or further spreading the virus.

This leads us to our next topic of discussion; whether or not you would need another dose of the Covid vaccine. One of the reasons that we have done so well with the latest variants is the due diligence we endured to get the majority of people vaccinated with two or more doses. We need to do a better job of getting more people vaccinated with booster doses which do a much better job against the current dominant variants. Getting sick with Covid, (and hopefully recovering…) is not an effective immune strategy as it appears these new variants neither boost our immunity as much nor offer protection as long as the original versions of the virus did.

Unfortunately, it looks as though Covid-19 is here to stay and it will continue to mutate and alter how it affects us. Continuing to receive the vaccines as they are offered will be a key to our success to co-exist with this coronavirus. For more information on this or any other health topic, contact your pharmacist.