As news continues to unfold about the spread of the coronavirus into the US, questions are arising about who is at risk and how you can avoid the disease. In Brian M. Douglas & Associates’ latest blog, we’re taking a look at the latest recommendations from the CDC and what older adults, in particular, can do to mitigate their risk of the coronavirus.


What are the latest numbers?

The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019, and has since spread to nearly 70 different international locations. In January 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency. Also, in January, US Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in the US.

At the end of February, the CDC reported the spread of the coronavirus into the US, with cases in Oregon and Washington. As of March 9, 34 US states (including Georgia) are now reporting the presence of the coronavirus, with some 560 cases and 22 virus-related deaths.


How does the coronavirus spread?

As the coronavirus is a new disease, health experts are still learning exactly how it spreads and to what extent the virus may spread in the US. Their initial research is that the virus is spread by 1) person-to-person contact and 2) contact with infected surfaces or objects.

With person-to-person contact, the virus can spread between two people who are in close contact (within six feet of each other). The infected person coughs or sneezes, and the other person inhales those respiratory droplets into their lungs. Concerning contact with an infected surface or object, an infected person touches a surface, leaving the germs on that object. A second person also touches that object and then touches their own mouth, nose, or eyes – leading them to ingest the virus.


What are the symptoms?

Coronavirus symptoms range from mild to severe. They typically begin appearing between two and 14 days after exposure. Health experts have reported fever, cough, and shortness of breath to be the main symptoms. The CDC has now developed a laboratory test kit for use in testing patients for an acute respiratory virus that leads to the coronavirus.


Are older adults more susceptible to the virus?

While a healthy, young adult may exhibit minor coronavirus symptoms like a cough or runny nose, the elderly and those with certain medical conditions could be at a greater risk. Just like with the seasonal flu, those with poor health or compromised respiratory systems are at a higher risk of being impacted. According to the CDC, approximately 70 to 85% of the seasonal flu deaths occur in people aged 65 and older.

Health experts in China have reported that of all confirmed cases of coronavirus, about 2.3% of patients died from the disease. For the patients 80 years and older, the fatality rate was closer to 15%. Additionally, those patients who were already suffering from another disease (ex: diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, heart issues) — these individuals had a much greater chance of requiring intensive medical treatment.

Both the US flu research and the Chinese coronavirus research reveal that the person’s existing medical conditions and their overall health contribute to the impact of the disease and its symptoms. An older adult with an otherwise healthy respiratory system will not be hit as hard as an older adult with a pre-existing condition or weak respiratory system.


How do you prevent getting the coronavirus?

While there is no coronavirus vaccine, the best way to prevent illness is to limit your exposure to it. The CDC has a list of recommendations to help prevent the spread of all respiratory diseases, including coronavirus. These recommendations include:


  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Washing your hands regularly and vigorously, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when possible
  • If you are sick
    • Stay home if possible
    • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, and then promptly throw the tissue away
    • Clean and disinfect any objects that you touch while you’re sick

The CDC does not recommend that people who are not sick wear a facemask. Those should be used by people who have the symptoms of coronavirus (to prevent the spread of the virus to others) or people who are health workers (to prevent catching and spreading the virus).

While global efforts are focused on containing the spread and impact of the coronavirus, the US government is working closely with state and local leaders to respond to the health emergency. If you have recently traveled in an area with widespread coronavirus, had contact with a coronavirus patient, or have developed symptoms of the coronavirus – call your healthcare professionals. In the meantime, continue following the CDC’s recommendations on avoiding exposure to the virus.