With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, you may be wondering how you can protect yourself. The virus has spread from China and is considered a worldwide pandemic. There are hundreds of reported cases of the infection every day.
This may sound scary, but there are ways to protect yourself. Seniors have more severe symptoms when they contract the illness. Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assure us that together we can stop the infectious virus spreading with a few simple tricks. With that in mind, here is everything you need to know about the coronavirus infection.
How does coronavirus affect the elderly?
It might help to think of coronavirus cases like extreme cases of the flu or other viruses. And unfortunately, like the flu, this virus can spread quickly and get tons of people sick in a short amount of time. Officials at the World Health Organization, a group dedicated to monitoring and preventing illness and disease around the world, warn us that reported symptoms of the virus include the following ailments:
- Dry cough
These three are the most common symptoms that anyone who contracts the disease can expect. However, there are other, more severe symptoms that some sick patients have reported feeling. These may include other flu-like symptoms such as:
- Coughing and sneezing
- Aches and pains
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat (some describe it as a “tickling” sensation in the back of their throats)
- Shortness of breath
Unfortunately, as we get older, our bodies’ immune systems become weaker. This means that people over 60 years old are more at risk than the rest of the population. This risk can become compounded by other ailments such as the following:
- Respiratory illness
- Chronic lung disease or difficulty breathing
- Heart conditions
- Severe obesity
- Those who are immunocompromised (including bone marrow or organ transplants, prolonged use of corticosteroids, or those who have undergone cancer treatment).
This also means that older citizens account for most of the death toll of coronavirus. Those who contract the virus should either self-isolate or (if their symptoms are severe enough) travel to the nearest hospital. Skilled doctors around the globe are working on a vaccine for COVID19 as we speak, but right now there is no cure.
And remember, it’s still flu season. You may want to consider getting a flu shot to prevent yourself from getting any kind of illness during this time. Ask your doctor about how you can get a flu shot, or check online and see if any places near you are distributing them. Here’s a link to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, which is very helpful if you want to know anything about personal or public health. You can learn more about what getting the flu shot is like, and why it’s important to immunize yourself from other harmful diseases.
How can I keep myself safe from coronavirus?
If any of those symptoms apply to you, you need to be extra careful. Stay indoors and try to limit contact with other people, even family and friends. Travel outside only for essentials such as food at the grocery store. It may be difficult, but because the virus spreads so easily between people, it can be hard to stop its spread while everyone’s visiting each other. It may be a sacrifice, but the fewer people who get infected, the quicker the virus is defeated. And as soon as that happens, things can go back to normal!
You can send nice notes to others, or call them over video, or play fun games with them over social media. But avoid being in physical contact with them or leaving your home for anything except essentials like food.
Cover your cough in your arm or elbow, not with your hand or a closed fist. This just spreads germs onto your hands, which can then make it to your nose and mouth.
Remember to clean household surfaces that you regularly touch, including doorknobs, rails, handles, tablets, keyboards, phones, tables, countertops, etc. Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds. Make sure you have enough supplies stockpiled to last at least two weeks, in case you get sick. Remember that grocery stores aren’t likely to shut down, but they may change their hours to accommodate employee layoffs. Look up ahead of time when your local store opens and closes.
Cancel non-essential doctors’ visits. If you do need to visit the doctor for an emergency, contact their office ahead of time to make sure they can see you.
Did you know you can visit some doctors over the phone? If you need medical attention but feel you should stay indoors, ask your doctor or a trusted friend to show you how to check in with a video call. Many doctors have already adapted to visits over the phone. Many more are adapting to this format to better suit their patients’ needs.
Ask someone who lives nearby (a friend, a family member, a co-worker, or someone else you can rely on) to be your emergency contact. This emergency contact should be someone you can trust to call and answer your questions, or to deliver food and other supplies when you need them. This person will also help you maintain human interaction while you practice social distancing.
(As a side note, the virus does not appear to affect animals the same way it affects humans. You still shouldn’t approach dogs or cats you find on the street, as there have been some cases of ones who have caught the virus, and animals can carry other infectious diseases. But the CDC hasn’t issued a specific warning about animals, so your pets are free to stay!)
Should I wear a mask?
If you are healthy and are taking care of someone who is suspected of having COVID19, it is recommended you use a mask to protect yourself from the virus. Also, wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
Also, remember that just wearing a mask doesn’t make you immune to germs. Touching your face can spread germs from whatever you’ve touched to your body, and wearing a mask can cause you to sometimes adjust the mask and still spread germs. So wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizer) before and after putting on your mask. Remove the mask from behind, not in front, as soon as feels damp–don’t use your fingers to check! Discard the mask immediately in a trash bin with a lid, and wash your hands again with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap.
If used properly, mask and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are useful tools of infection control that decrease the rate at which an infection spreads.
For more information on masks, including how to properly use and dispose of them, check out this link from the World Health Organization. It includes helpful videos and diagrams.
What if I get coronavirus?
Stay calm. Remember that it helps to have a plan in times of distress. Call your doctor immediately if you show any signs of the flu. Cancel or reschedule events with family and friends—you wouldn’t want them to get sick, after all. Consider asking your trusted friend to drive you to a local public health center if you’re not feeling well enough to go on your own.
If you feel one or more of the coronavirus symptoms listed earlier in this article, you should seriously consider getting tested for the virus. Many states are now making tests available at local hospitals and health centers. Go online and search for a place to get tested in your county or region. Be aware that health officials may have a procedure for how and where to get tested, so read the instructions carefully and be ready to help follow them.
While the coronavirus is a serious disease, don’t just go and get tested because you’re afraid of it. Get tested only if you feel symptoms of coronavirus. These testing centers have a lot of people to see, meaning they have to prioritize the people who likely have the virus. If you’re feeling fine, there’s no reason to get tested, and you can stay home.
Encouragement in Difficult Times
You can do this! It’s a crazy time for all of us, with everything shut down, and everyone worried about getting sick. But you’ve gotten this far—you can keep going! Remember to stay home, cancel non-essential doctor visits and appointments, keep in touch with kids and grandkids over Skype or FaceTime, clean household surfaces you regularly touch, and have an action plan in case you do get sick.
In the middle of crises, it can be hard to see the good. It may feel like the storm clouds will never go away. But keep doing your best and things will work out in the end.