First, always take special precautions with older loved ones, especially those who may have pre-existing conditions that may weaken their immune systems. Also more vulnerable are those with respiratory conditions that make them particularly susceptible to any airborne virus.
Second, coronavirus is a novel strain which means simply that no one will really have any inherent defenses built up like we do for measles or mumps or other well-known bugs for which we can get inoculated or have the benefit of having dealt with them when we were younger. And we have no vaccines as we do for the annual influenza seasons. It also means that we are still learning about how bad it can be ultimately be.
Third, in the age of jet travel no one is really more than about 24 hours away from a carrier of a virus. With the condition’s relatively long incubation period, virtually anyone can become a host to the virus that can reach them from anywhere else. The “almost good news” is that Wuhan is in Hubei province, some distance of the other major cities, not really on the main thoroughfares of even Chinese travel.
Fourth, the coronavirus does not yet constitute a public health emergency of international concern according to the World Health Organization. But, avoid contact with people who have the disease already as well as animals and animal markets. (None of these are real issues here.) Personal hygiene needs to be stepped up: aggressive handwashing, covering your face if you sneeze or cough, fist bumps over handshakes and the rest of the usual.
Fifth, avoid all travel? No, says the CDC, unless you are specifically planning on going to China – that travel should be postponed. Exercise caution, and be vigilant about fellow passengers who may be coughing, etc. But also keep this in context; we have already seen thousands of hospitalizations and numerous deaths from the current flu epidemic. This is still small scale…so far.
And keep all of this in perspective … that it is a “developing story.” None of the domestic cases yet have been contracted from a patient here. When that happens, the steps may change. Until then, consider all of the above to be steps to avoid infection of any new viral strain, but also take steps early with any signs in your older loved ones or yourself. If you or someone you love do develop symptoms and are planning a medical visit, phone ahead to tell them what you may suspect. Your providers need to be as prepared as you do.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.