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Experts say there are common medications that may help for in case of viral infection. STR/AFP via Getty Images
  • Here are some tips on what medications and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to have on hand during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Get at least 1 month of prescription medications so you don’t have to worry about running out.
  • OTC medications may help relieve some symptoms of the coronavirus in mild cases.

All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that there is a shortage in the United States of one prescription drug due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The agency did not disclose the name of the medication but said there was a manufacturing issue with one of the drug’s ingredients. The drug has been added to the FDA’s shortage list.

The raw ingredients for many pharmaceutical drugs — both prescription and over the counter (OTC) — are made in China, where many factories shut down due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Some of these plants have reopened, but as the COVID-19 outbreak continues, we may see additional drug shortages. So should you stock up on medications or OTC drugs?

We checked in with two experts.

Dr. Tanaya Bhowmick, an infectious disease specialist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, recommends that people who rely on prescription medications keep approximately a 30-day supply on hand.

This will get you through the 14-day self-quarantine period, which is recommended for anyone who has been potentially exposed to the novel coronavirus. During this time you will need to stay at home to see whether you develop symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

If you do become sick, you will need to stay in home isolation until your risk of passing the virus onto others is low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some pharmacies, including mail-order ones, allow you to automatically refill your regular prescriptions, sometimes for 90 days at a time. This is a good way to ensure that you always have enough on hand.

Amy Fuller, DNP, MSN, RN, director of the family nurse practitioner master’s degree program at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, said most medications are good for one year, so you shouldn’t have to worry about them expiring.

If your insurer limits the length of the prescription you can have for your medication, ask your doctor to help you submit a quantity limit exemption form.

You can also check the FDA drug shortages list to see if any of your current medications are affected by coronavirus or other manufacturing problems. If so, talk to your pharmacist or doctor to see if there is a suitable alternative available.

There are currently no approved antiviral treatments for COVID-19 — although several are in development.

But Bhowmick said its symptoms are “fairly similar” to the common cold, which is caused by another type of coronavirus. So some OTC medications may also help relieve the symptoms of COVID-19.

She says acetaminophen can be used for fever and body aches. For nasal congestion, she recommends nasal irrigation with a saline solution, or a decongestant such as pseudoephedrine (people with high blood pressure should avoid this) or phenylephrine.

The usual cold/flu self-care recommendations also apply: “Keeping hydrated is of the utmost importance,” said Bhowmick, “and of course rest.”

Some natural remedies may relieve cold and flu symptoms, but Fuller cautions that most of them are not approved by the FDA.

If you do get sick with COVID-19, you may not be able to leave your house for a while, so think about the other essential supplies that you need to have on hand.

This might include ready-to-eat canned or frozen meals, fresh fruit and vegetables, daily beverages like coffee and tea, and your favorite sweet treats.

King County, Washington, has a pandemic flu checklist that covers medications and other essentials such as bottled water and canned and dry goods.

The American Red Cross also has a checklist, which is similar to what they recommend for natural disasters.

But Bhowmick says unlike hurricanes and blizzards, which usually have a definite time frame, the COVID-19 outbreak will likely continue longer. Still, she says your coronavirus preparations don’t have to be extreme.

“Keeping some packaged food on hand isn’t a bad idea,” she said. “I usually always have something at home regardless, but I don’t think I will increase my supply in response to [the coronavirus].”

Fuller reminds people to keep informed about COVID-19 through sites such as the CDC.

You can also take steps to help prevent the spread of illness, whether it is COVID-19 or the flu.

“People practicing mindfulness — washing hands, covering coughs/sneezes and wiping down surfaces — should be helpful for all viruses,” said Bhowmick.

While much news coverage is focused on COVID-19, it’s also important to keep things in perspective.

“Keep in mind that in the U.S., the CDC estimates there have been 18,000 to 46,000 deaths due to influenza,” said Bhowmick. “Since coronavirus is a novel virus, it has captured people’s attention.”