The new Coronavirus outbreak that began in China has quickly swept headlines across Canada.
While the numbers are constantly updating, right now, about 213 people have died from the virus. The new illness (2019-nCoV) has no known cure as of yet, and because it is a virus, antibiotics can’t be used as a method of treatment.
On top of this, seniors are most likely at a higher risk than younger adults. This is true with most similar diseases, since aging immune systems are generally weaker against illness. According to WHO, while anyone can be affected by Coronavirus, older people are more vulnerable.
With all of the news going around the media of Coronavirus spreading, it’s natural to have a strong, fearful reaction. If you’re over the age of 60, surely you need to be worried about contracting this new virus, right?
No. There’s no reason to panic.
The Coronavirus has killed an unfortunate number of people. However, this is still only about a 2% fatality rate, much lower than diseases like SARS or MERS. While there have been four confirmed cases in Canada, there are no confirmed deaths on this side of the world.
On the other hand, influenza, also called the flu, causes around 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths in Canada every year. A large majority of these deadly flu cases are in seniors (adults aged 65+).
With all the news coverage on this new, scary disease, it’s important to remember that panic is the real threat. Many news outlets are simply looking to create fear, because it drives people to tune in. However, there is an illness affecting many seniors in Canada, and it’s something we’ve known about for a long time.
Why is the flu dangerous for seniors?
Influenza, also called ‘the flu’, is a viral respiratory infection, affecting hundreds of thousands of people per year worldwide. While most people recover after a bit over a week, seniors and other people with reduced immune systems are at a greater risk of complications.
Influenza spreads very easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing, and physical contact. It can also be spread by touching objects or surfaces that an infected person touched without first washing their hands. Retirement homes and hospitals are high-risk areas for transmission, because they’re full of people with weakened immune systems that can easily contract and spread the virus.
How can you prevent the flu?
As you can see, the common flu is a very real threat to the health of seniors. Luckily, there are simply (but very important) ways to reduce the risk of infection. Here are a few to remember:
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, or use antibacterial gel (like Purell) during the day.
- Regularly disinfect objects and surfaces in your home (or residence).
- Avoid touching your face.
- Avoid contact with infected people.
- Keep your immune system strong with a healthy diet.
While these are all good prevention techniques, the absolute best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. Everyone (seniors especially) should get vaccinated against influenza every year. Vaccination can reduce the risk of getting the flu by 40 to 60 percent. It may sound dramatic, but getting a flu shot can actually make the difference of life or death for many seniors, especially those in nursing/retirement homes.
Of course, the flu virus changes year to year, so it’s necessary to get immunized every season. You may be asking when the best time is to get the shot. In truth, flu seasons typically begin as early as September. Immunize Canada says the best time to get the vaccine is anywhere from October to December. However, you should get vaccinated as long as the seasonal flu is still going around, which can be as late as May.
Also, since pneumonia is often a complication of the flu, it’s a good idea to get the vaccines against it as well. Read more about pneumonia in seniors here.
Should Canadian Seniors be worried about Coronavirus?
When it comes to the flu, we don’t panic about it every year, because it’s nothing new; we know it will come every fall. When something like Coronavirus pops up, though, we tend to panic and worry about the new, scary disease, while ignoring the silent killer that’s already at our doorstep.
It is very likely that, as with the flu, the elderly will be the most at risk of death from Coronavirus. However, the numbers are still not concrete, and that previously mentioned 2% mortality rate may go down as more cases are confirmed. Newer reports suggest that the mortality rate may actually be as low as .2 percent, or about the same as the flu.
Right now, Canada has four recorded cases of Coronavirus. So far, nobody on this side of the globe has died from the disease. Meanwhile, thousands of Canadians have likely been affected by the season flu since fall.
While that doesn’t mean all caution should be thrown to the wind regarding Coronavirus, it’s easy to get scared by something new and unknown, and forget about the disease that’s already here.
If you’re still worried about this new virus, you can take comfort in knowing that the prevention methods are essentially the same as those for preventing influenza: This means washing your hands often, keeping your immune system healthy, et cetera.
If you or an elderly loved one in Montreal still hasn’t received a pneumococcal or flu shot, remember that it’s never too late. If you need someone to accompany you to an appointment, feel free to contact us today regarding our senior companionship services.