COVID-19 Pandemic Edition
Everything You Need to Know About COVID-19 and How to Protect your Elderly from It?
By: Rosemarie Tamunday Casanova
The start of 2020 marks an alarming concern to the global health community when the dreaded COVID-19 outbreak that was first reported from Wuhan, China has now become a pandemic and spread so far to at least 212 countries and territories. As of today, the strain of coronavirus has infected over 5.6 million people worldwide, resulting in 351,866 deaths(WHO report as of May 2020). Included of those heavily affected are the seniors and elderly people. Some of them are living in-home, with their family members, while others are staying in the assisted facilities and nursing cares.
Health experts believe that COVID-19 is milder than SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which also identified in China in 2003 and has so far reported 8,098 cases and claimed 774 lives in 26 countries. And MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which was occured in Saudi Arabia in 2012 affecting 27 countries across the globe and recorded 2,519 cases and 866 total deaths.
SARS and MERS have a significantly higher fatality rates case than COVID-19 however, COVID-19 is more infectious and transmits faster from person to person, leading to greater case numbers. And yet, despite the lower case of fatality rate, the total number of deaths from COVID-19 which now rose to around 300,000 worldwide far outweights that from SARS and MERS.
So it is appropriate to be continuously vigilant because until now we do not know completely enough about its true potential, like how deadly the disease is, how best to treat those who get sick, and how to stop it from spreading.
WHAT IS COVID-19?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID-19 is a virus (more specifically, a coronavirus) identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China.
COVID-19 has been traced to the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, which is known for selling wild animals. Much like other coronaviruses, the Wuhan strain was likely spread from the animals to humans, where the highly contagious illness quickly spread. However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, suggesting person-to-person spread is occurring. At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people.
Experts say that it causes an upper respiratory infection and pneumonia, an inflammation of the lungs, which can range from moderate to severe.
On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. The virus did not match any other known virus. This raised concern because when a virus is new, we do not know how it affects people.
One week later, on 7 January, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a new virus. The new virus is a coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that include the common cold, and viruses such as SARS and MERS. This new virus was temporarily named “2019-nCoV.” In February 2020, WHO officially named the strain of coronavirus that has infected over 43,000 people worldwide, as "COVID-19".
"Under agreed guidelines between WHO, the @OIEAnimalHealth & @FAO, we had to find a name that did not refer to a geographical location, an animal, an individual or group of people, and which is also pronounceable and related to the disease," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO.
Public health officials and partners are working hard to identify the source of the COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals, including camels, cats, and bats.
Droplets from coughing and sneezing and close human contact likely transmit the coronavirus. The respiratory droplets are probably absorbed into the body through the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and eyes. The virus is likely to remain active in the environment for several days.
This could be through:
- Hugging and kissing
- Sharing utensils for eating and drinking
- Speaking to someone within a distance of 3 feet
- Touching someone directly
- A person with the virus can spread the infection by leaving respiratory droplets on objects, such as door handles, doorbells, and telephones. These are then picked up by someone else.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a person could be at risk if they have:
- Fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness, such as coughing or difficulty breathing, after traveling to Wuhan and other affected countries or having close contact with someone who was ill and is now under investigation for the virus in the past two weeks.
- Fever or symptoms of lower respiratory illness after having close contact in the past two weeks with someone who's been confirmed to have the virus.
- Most cases of COVID-19 begin with a high fever. Other early symptoms include those common to flu, such as aches, chills, diarrhea, dry coughing, and shortness of breath. These will develop over a week. Patients may go on to develop pneumonia, an infection of the lungs.
- Serious complications, such as respiratory failure, heart failure, and liver failure may occur. These complications are more likely in people aged over 60 years, and those with pre-existing co-morbidities, such as diabetes or hepatitis.
CDC has expanded its list of coronavirus symptoms, adding more indicators such as the following:
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of smell or taste
A notable addition to the list is a "new loss of taste or smell," something that health experts have suspected to be an early symptom for some time now. It was also publicly mentioned in social media by some sports and media personalities who has been infected by the virus.
However, CDC noted that the list is not all inclusive and just because you have any of the above symptoms, it doesn't necessarily mean you have the coronavirus. Still, the best thing to do if you feel ill, or experiencing any of the above symptoms, is to immediately call your trusted health providers.
It's also important to note that COVID-19 virus can spread asymptomatically, meaning that significant number of individuals are carrying the virus without being aware of it, likely explaining much of the disease's rapid global spread.
Making a clinical diagnosis of respiratory viral illness for elderly patients poses a challenge. The clinical picture is much more blurred in comparison to the typical upper respiratory infection, seen in children and young adults.
Among elderly patients, the respiratory viral illness may accompany symptoms of lower respiratory tract involvement, pulmonary and cardiac failure, and nonspecific or atypical symptoms such as confusion, anorexia, dizziness, falls and lack of fever. Finally, some elderly may also be unable to articulate their symptoms clearly, something they have in common with infants.
If you believe that you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19 infection. People infected with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against COVID-19. Specialist infectious disease teams will isolate people with symptoms of coronavirus. They will provide supportive medical care to treat any symptoms.
There are still no drugs or biologics that have been proved effective for the treatment of this new coronavirus disease. Investigation of several anti-virals, immunotherapeutic agents and vaccines are continuing to develop an effective therapy for the COVID-19 treatment to date. However, there are some positive indications from scientists and health experts around the globe in an effort to come up with the best treatment for COVID-19 before the year ends.
In medicine, the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” holds true and can save you money and your life. In this case, it all starts by observing safety measures to help restrict the spread of the virus.
WHO’s standard recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are as follows, which include hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices:
- Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- Avoiding touching the eyes, mouth or nose with unclean hands.
- When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough.
- Observe social distancing(at least 3 feet apart) if you went outside.
- If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider.
- When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of a novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with life animals and surfaces in contact with animals.
- The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, CDC suggests that you should:
- Stock up on supplies.
- Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Avoid crowds as much as possible.
- Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
- During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.
PROTECTING YOUR ELDERLY
Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that older adults are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. Please pay attention for potential COVID-19 emergency warning signs* such as:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest.
- New confusion or inability to arouse.
- Bluish lips or face
*This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.
Dr. Norman Edelman, the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, recommends that frail elderly people who are already susceptible to infection should stay away from anyone who has the flu or a bad cold. Of course, preventing coronavirus in the elderly is always preferable to treating it. But if you suspect your loved one is suffering from the virus, a quick intervention can be a life-saving occurrence.
Community Support for Older Adults
Community preparedness planning for COVID-19 should include older adults and people with disabilities, and the organizations that support them in their communities, to ensure their needs are taken into consideration.
- Many of these individuals live in the community, and many depend on services and supports provided in their homes or in the community to maintain their health and independence.
- Long-term care facilities should be vigilant to prevent the introduction and spread of COVID-19.
Family and Caregiver Support
- Know what medications your loved one is taking and see if you can help them have extra on hand.
- Monitor food and other medical supplies (oxygen, incontinence, dialysis, wound care) needed and create a back-up plan.
- Stock up on non-perishable food items to have on hand in your home to minimize trips to stores.
- If you care for a loved one living in a care facility, monitor the situation, ask about the health of the other residents frequently and know the protocol if there is an outbreak.
Finally, Caregivers should make sure a loved one is receiving proper hydration, eating at least a small amount of healthy food, and reporting worsening or new complications, says Edelman.
The COVID-19 outbreak is a global health challenge that requires preventive actions and diligence among all concerns. Maintaining health with the right information, proper hygiene, and safe food practices are still the best way to combat the disease. We must stop, contain, control, delay and reduce the impact of this virus at every opportunity. Every person has the capacity to contribute, to protect themselves, to protect others, whether in the home, the community, the healthcare system, the workplace or the transport system. WHO deeply stressed the importance of the five P's in times of the pandemic crisis such as COVID-19:
- Public health.
- Political leadership.
- And most of all, people.
Though there is a need for great concerns at this time, panic is not an advisable answer to the outbreak. It is important to take a precautionary approach while uncertainty persists. It is also important not to overreact and for measures to be scientifically sound. Stay safe everyone!