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A Summer Guide to Covid Testing, Symptoms and Treatment

As new variants of the coronavirus continue to gain traction, doctors and researchers are bracing for a potential rise in cases this summer. KP.2, one of these variants, now accounts for 28.5 percent of cases, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a small increase in Covid-related emergency room visits and positive tests.

Here’s what to know about symptoms, testing and treatment if you do fall ill:

There’s no evidence that symptoms of the new dominant variants, including those collectively known as the “FLiRT” variants, are any different than other recent strains of the virus, said Aubree Gordon, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Michigan.

The symptoms still include sneezing, congestion, headaches, sore muscles, nausea or vomiting. Many people also report exhaustion and a general “blah” feeling.

In general, the more immunity you’ve built up from vaccination or past infections, the milder your next bout with the virus is likely to be. (Though it’s possible to experience more intense symptoms with a new infection than you’ve had in past Covid cases.)

The symptoms of Covid can look similar to those caused by allergies or other infections. The best way to tell the difference is to test.

In an ideal world, experts said, people would take a Covid test as soon as they develop symptoms or learn they were exposed, and then test again a day or two later. But if you only have a limited number of at-home rapid tests, there are a few ways to maximize their usefulness: Test immediately if you have a fever and a cough, said Dr. Davey Smith, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Diego.

If you have other symptoms but few tests on hand, you may want to wait a few days to test, to reduce the chance of a false negative. People who are immunocompromised, older or who have underlying health issues may want to test as soon as they feel sick or learn they were exposed, so they can start taking Paxlovid to reduce the severity of the illness, said Dr. Paul Auwaerter, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

If you’ve had symptoms for more than three days but are still testing negative, it’s unlikely you’ll ever test positive on an at-home test, Dr. Gordon said — either because you do not have Covid, or because you are shedding amounts of the virus that are too low for a rapid test to pick up.

If you’re waiting to test, you should take precautions in the meantime to minimize the potential spread of the virus, like wearing a mask in public and isolating from others, said Dr. Paul Sax, the clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Before using a test, check its expiration date. If it’s past the date, you can see whether it’s still usable by going through the F.D.A. database of tests. Be mindful in the summer months about where Covid tests are stored; leaving them in extreme heat for several days may make them less accurate. Health officials have also advised against using tests made by Cue Health.

In March, the F.D.A. approved a new medication for highly immunocompromised people, such as those receiving stem cell or organ transplants. The drug, Pemgarda, is a monoclonal antibody infusion that can be taken as a preventive measure, before people contract the virus.

People age 12 and older who have tested positive can take Paxlovid within five days of developing symptoms. The medication halts the virus from replicating in the body and lowers the risk of death for people who are more vulnerable to severe disease. There is no evidence that Paxlovid is less effective against the current leading variants than previous strains of the virus, experts said. Scientists are still debating whether Paxlovid can reduce the risk of developing long Covid.

There are two other antiviral treatments that doctors use much less frequently: remdesivir, or Veklury, which is given as an IV infusion to adults and children, and molnupiravir, known as Lagevrio, which is a pill that can be used to reduce the risk of severe disease in adults.

Doctors advise resting as much as possible while sick. If you’re up for it, take a lap around the block — “you should not be completely inactive,” Dr. Sax said — but don’t push yourself.

“Some people like to take long walks,” Dr. Smith said. “I just stay in bed and read a book. Basically, you just suffer through it.”

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