That guidance will help healthcare professionals identify people at high, moderate or low risk of hospitalization and tailor treatment accordingly.
WHO said current COVID-19 virus variants tend to cause less severe disease, while immunity levels are higher due to vaccination, leading to a lower risk of severe disease and death for most patients.
Hospital risk rates
The update — the 13th since September 2020 — includes new baseline risk estimates for hospitalization in patients with non-severe COVID-19.
The new ‘moderate risk’ category now includes groups previously considered high risk, such as older people and people with chronic conditions, disabilities and co-morbidities of chronic disease. Their estimated hospitalization rate is three percent.
People with weaker immune systems remain at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, with an estimated six percent hospitalization rate. WHO said most people are in the low-risk category, which has a 0.5 percent hospitalization rate.
The UN health agency continues to strongly recommend the antiviral drug nirmatrelvir-ritonavir, known by the brand name Paxlovid, for patients with non-severe COVID-19 who are at high and moderate risk of needing hospital treatment.
If not available for high-risk patients, it is suggested to use molnupiravir or remdesivir instead.
The WHO also recommends against using molnupiravir and remdesivir in moderate-risk patients “given that the potential harms outweigh the limited benefits”.
It also does not recommend any antiviral therapy for people at low risk of hospitalization, saying “symptoms such as fever and pain can still be managed with analgesics such as paracetamol.”
The update also advises against the use of a new antiviral agent, VV116, in COVID-19 patients, except in clinical trials.