Coronavirus: Why South African seniors should be prepared, not panicked

Coronavirus: Why South African seniors should be prepared, not panicked

It appears to be inevitable that the Coronavirus will reach South Africa, and medical experts say that this is the time for awareness, not panic.

Coronavirus mask

Preliminary estimates suggest that people over the age of 50 are more susceptible to severe respiratory illness such as pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus, which can also cause symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says that “the data coming out of China shows that the people who are higher risk for severe disease and death are those who are older and with underlying health conditions”.

However, it does need to be reiterated that being a 50-plusser does not automatically put you in the high-risk category. People with chronic health conditions are likely to be more susceptible to severe disease caused by the virus.

Mortality rate

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). For decades, infectious disease specialists have warned of the inevitability of a new coronavirus, as many viral infections are transmitted from animals to humans, and there has been an ever-increasing exposure to animals over time.

According to Worldometers, there have been 95,500 coronavirus cases, 3,286 deaths, and 53,689 recoveries from the virus (as of 5 March 2020).

READ: Man locks wife in bathroom over coronavirus fears

What is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that we have not encountered before and like its most closely related cousin, the SARS coronavirus, Covid-19 likely originated from animals. Some of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped at the wet market in Wuhan in China. Indications are that the virus was first identified in December 2019 when it “jumped” from an animal species to humans, and thereafter spread from person to person. “Wet markets” in China are notorious for having thousands of live, wild animals from across the globe crammed in cages in very close proximity to the market sellers and customers.

What are the symptoms of the coronavirus?

Symptoms include coughs, fever, and breathing difficulties. The virus can cause pneumonia, and because this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics do not work. In severe cases, organ failure has been reported. Most of those who have died were in poor health - which is why senior citizens are so badly affected by it, while those who have a strong immune system have recovered. 

Residents wearing respiratory mask wait to be given access to shop in a supermarket in small groups of forty people on February 23, 2020 in the small Italian town of Casalpusterlengo, under the shadow of a new coronavirus outbreak, as Italy took drastic c

How does the virus get transmitted? 

China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere around the world.

Follow these basic steps to reduce your risk:

Wash your hands well

Washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that could be on your hands. Institute a handwashing rule for everyone as soon as they enter the house or retirement home.

In the UK, elderly people are being encouraged to limit their outings and social contact. They should also insist that visitors wash their hands upon arrival.

Keep your distance from sick people (social distancing)

Why? Because if someone coughs or sneezes, they could spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth, and these could contain the virus.

Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth

Hands can pick up viruses when touching surfaces. Once contaminated, your hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose, and mouth. The virus then enters your body and you can get sick. 

Practice good respiratory hygiene

Use tissues when coughing or sneezing – then dispose of the used tissue immediately, preferably in a lined bin.

READ: Coronavirus FAQs

When to seek medical care?

Stay at home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough or difficulty in breathing and if you suspect you have COVID-19, then seek medical attention immediately. Call first so your health care provider can direct you to the appropriate health facility. This will protect you and also help prevent the spread of viruses and other infections.

Misinformation in the age of social media

One of the big issues of the day is battling the myths and falsehoods about the virus – which are spreading more quickly than officials can provide updates.

Dr Marvin Hsiao, Principle Pathologist and Senior Lecturer in the Division of Medical Virology and the NHLS at the University of Cape Town, told You’ve Earned It: “As we are bombarded with an avalanche of information on COVID-19, it is important to have the most accurate, up to date information from the official sources."

Dr Hsiao suggests visiting these websites for accurate information:

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)

World Health Organization

Coronavirus blood test

What is the South Africa government doing to help protect its citizens?

The Western Cape Government has announced that they are “ready for coronavirus cases”. 

Nomafrench Mbombo, the Western Cape Provincial Minister of Health and previously Associate Professor at the Faculty of Community and Health Sciences at the University of the Western Cape, has said: “We urge the public to trust our preparedness and readiness and not share fake or misleading information. We’ve created platforms where they can access official, up-to-date info and we ask the media to support the Department in assuring the public of their safety as well as guiding them on access to health services.” 

“The Department has world-class systems and facilities, which have been tried and tested in the past, and we are doing everything possible to ensure that we are fully prepared for any scenario. We realise that there are high levels of public anxiety, but we urge the public to remain calm and follow the basic guidelines.”

The Western Cape Government has shared a detailed action plan regarding how they will deal with any locals, travellers or medical professionals who show signs of the fatal illness:

- They have a 72-hour response plan should the WC get a confirmed victim, and contact tracing teams will be engaged.

- They will isolate patients in a suitable facility for assessment and apply infection prevention and control measures.

- The facility will then contact the Infectious Disease Specialist/Virologist at Tygerberg or Groote Schuur Hospital.

- If required, a test will be done and sent to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) for analysis.

- Thermal scanning is currently in place at Cape Town Airport. Daily briefings are also exchanged with the NICD.

- The Provincial Health Operational Command Centre scans international arrivals. Upon identification of people showing coronavirus symptoms, they are taken to Tygerberg hospital for monitoring and isolation.

Article courtesy of You've Earned It

Main Image: iStock

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