For weeks now, the news media have bombarded us with breathless stories about the coronavirus, the fast-spreading respiratory illness that appears to have originated in the city of Wuhan, China. Reliable information is hard to come by, and the news changes by the hour, but as of just a few days ago there were nearly 43,000 confirmed cases in China, where the illness has claimed more than 1,100 lives. But how concerned should Americans be? And does the coronavirus wreak particular havoc on seniors?
Coronavirus and Seniors: Few U.S. Cases (and No U.S. Fatalities) So Far
For answers we turned to this article just published on the MarketWatch website, written by reporter Allessandra Malito. The article explains that there are a dozen confirmed cases in the U.S. (now 15 as of this writing), with no fatalities so far. Indeed, almost all the confirmed deaths from the coronavirus have occurred in China, with one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. While it’s still far too early to predict the course of this outbreak, Malito notes in her article that roughly half of the American cases involve people age 50 and older.
“A total of 237 people have been tested for coronavirus in the U.S. as of Friday [February 7th], and 100 more investigations are pending,” says MarketWatch, quoting figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says that about one-quarter of the 200-plus people in the U.S. tested in January were over the age of 50. To date, there are confirmed cases of the virus in just six states – Washington, Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin – but 36 states and territories have patients under evaluation. In all at least 25 countries have been affected.
Coronavirus and Seniors: The Elderly Appear to be More Vulnerable
“This does appear to affect seniors worse than people as a whole,” Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage told MarketWatch. But, he added, the amount of data is still too sparse to make a solid evaluation. “We tend to see more severe cases and not less severe cases. Hopefully that will become clearer in the next few weeks,” Hanage said. Getting solid, reliable information on the coronavirus outbreak from Chinese officials has proven a challenge, but it seems that a significant number of the 1,100 deaths so far have been among the elderly, as one would expect from a respiratory disease whose chief symptoms are fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
Here in North America, says MarketWatch, the timing of the outbreak adds an element of confusion for people on the lookout for the illness. “The coronavirus also comes at a time when many people are sniffling, coughing and coming down with a fever. The winter is known as cold and flu season, and older Americans are at a higher risk of developing these illnesses.” One expert in infectious diseases from NYU told Malito that respiratory viruses are almost always more severe in older adults, whose immune systems are not as robust.
Coronavirus and Seniors: No Vaccine Yet, but Common-Sense Precautions Can Help
We checked the special page on the CDC website about the coronavirus, and learned that the virus does not always manifest the same symptoms: some patients report very mild effects while others become seriously ill. As we said, symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The incubation period between exposure and the onset of symptoms can be as little as two days or as long as two weeks, making it a challenge to track where the exposure originated. While researchers are hard at work in the labs, there is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus, and this news story from UPI quotes officials from the World Health Organization who claim it will take 18 months before a vaccine is ready for deployment.
Meanwhile, the best means of prevention is avoidance. The CDC’s tips should sound familiar, because they apply to any respiratory virus:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
The CDC does not recommend masks for healthy people. “Many Americans are rushing to buy surgical face masks to prevent coronavirus,” says MarketWatch, but experts say it’s not necessary. “Often times, people wear them improperly, and a sharp incline in consumer demand for the masks could mean a shortage for people who need them — mainly, health care providers. Face masks may stop people from touching their face, or raise awareness, but there isn’t enough research to support how helpful these masks are for preventing diseases.” However, if you do become ill, a mask can help keep you from infecting others.
Staying Healthy is Like Preparing for Retirement: Be Proactive, Plan Ahead
As dire as the headlines sound, the coronavirus – like any other potentially serious illness – should cause us to stay calm, get the facts, take necessary precautions, and plan carefully. The same advice can be applied to retirement planning: it’s easy for people who have failed to plan to panic when they consider what their retirement future holds, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With some careful planning, you will be able to protect your assets in retirement while you successfully avoid becoming a burden to those you love. What’s more, with the right plan in place, there’s no reason why you should be forced into a nursing home against your will.
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(originally reported at www.marketwatch.com)