Coronavirus for seniors, what you need to know

When the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) first began to spread in China last December, many believed it would be contained quickly and easily. Few imagined it would become an epidemic that has claim as many lives as it has so far and crippled many industries.

Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease testified before the House Oversight and Reform Committee and confirmed what many already suspected: coronavirus is far more dangerous than the common flu – 10 times “more lethal” to be exact.

To put things into perspective, Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of Congress, projected that 70-150 million Americans will be infected by the coronavirus.

While the case mortality rate for COVID-19 – the number of deaths marked against the total number of people infected –  is estimated at 3.4 percent by the World Health Organization and significantly lower than other recent notable epidemics like SARS and MERS (which had case morality rates of 9-10 percent and 35 percent, respectively), it’s critical to stay vigilant.

With the highest mortality among seniors, it’s important to know just what precautions to take to protect our loved ones who are over the age of 60.

Age Group — Mortality Rate

0-9 — <.01 percent
10-19 — .02 percent
20-29 — .09 percent
30-39 — .18 percent
40-49 — .40 percent
50-59 — 1.3 percent
60-69 — 4.6 percent
70-79 — 9.8 percent
80 & up — 18 percent

Why Seniors are at Higher Risk?

Coronavirus does not affect age groups the same way. Based on the data so far from how the population in Italy and China have been affected, older patients have the highest risk of fatality. Data from the Chinese Center of Disease Control was examined by researchers at the University of Bern in Switzerland and used to determine how the virus is affecting different age groups.

Since approximately 23 percent of the population in Italy is 65 and older, the coronavirus is a significant threat and is wreaking havoc in the senior population. Based on data from the National Institute of Health, of 105 Italians who died from coronavirus, the average age was 81.

The reason why older people are at such high risk is because of a couple of factors. Firstly, their immune systems are not as robust as they once were, making seniors more prone to infections that take a long time for them to bounce back from.

The second reason is that older people tend to have other underlying health challenges that compromise their immune system.

Of the 105 Italians who died from COVID-19 as of March 4th, two-thirds had pre-existing conditions with the most common being diabetes, coronary heart disease, and high blood pressure. But it isn’t just those with health challenges who are at risk.

In a World Health Organization report based on data in China, 1.4 percent of the people who died from coronavirus had no chronic disease. Among people with cancer, the number of people who died increased to 7.6 percent; for those with coronary respiratory disease, it was 8 percent; and for those with cardiovascular disease, it increased to 13.2 percent.

In America, there were 52 million people above the age of 65 in 2018, meaning that if just 2.4 percent of this population becomes infected with coronavirus as health information technology expert Farzad Mostashari estimates, 1.5 million seniors in America would be infected. And if we assume a fatality rate of approximately 20 percent, this would translate to 300,000 deaths of seniors in America alone.

Why is It So Hard to Treat Coronavirus?

One of the leading reasons why they COVID-19 is so difficult to treat is because it is a virus, meaning there are no antibiotics to kill the virus. Complicating things further is the pact that the hospital system in most countries, America included, is just not equipped to handle the number of patients coming in for treatment on a daily basis.

With an estimated 45,000 intensive care unit beds within the United States, it is hard to be able to adequately treat and quarantine each individual and give them the necessary amount of care they need. The virus affects the respiratory system and so it often is a question of whether a hospital has enough ventilators.

Since the virus is so difficult to detect because its symptoms closely resemble that of the common cold or flu, there are many people who may have the coronavirus but be unaware of it, and assume they just have the flu. The coronavirus spreads more easily than a cold with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Testing is limited and so there are some who may not realize they are carrying the virus and pass it on to vulnerable individuals.

How to Protect Seniors

  • Washing hands – Curbing the spread of the coronavirus boils down to what we have always been told to do to avoid getting sick: washing your hands. While this may seem simple and basic, it is the most effective way to combat the coronavirus. This should not only be a priority for people in the high-risk group, this should be practiced by those considered healthy because they may be carriers of the virus and pass it on to their older loved ones. By increasing preventative hygiene measures, you can help to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Getting tested – If you suspect you may have come in contact with COVID-19, or have one of the following symptoms: dry cough, fever, feel lightheaded or lethargic, go to your nearest health care provider and get tested. In the meantime, avoid visiting or physically interacting with older relatives to avoid spreading the virus if you have any of the symptoms.
  • Isolation – The best thing you can do to protect your vulnerable relatives is to protect yourself. Stay home as far as possible and heed the advice by your healthcare officials. By staying isolated and away from crowds of people, we can all do out part to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly among seniors.

Remember to call and check on the older people in your life. They have a tendency to not keep up with the news and may not be able to take the necessary precautions. However, you can do so from a distance. Continue to encourage them to take the necessary steps to keep themselves safe.