All of us here know how to prepare for a blizzard, people in the South know how to prepare for a hurricane, and folks on the Great Plains know how to prepare for a tornado. Maybe what is most challenging about the virus that is part of every news cycle these days is that it is a “novel” coronavirus. If you are a caregiver to an older loved one as well as looking out for your own health, let me address four major questions about the “new” virus:
- What are signs and symptoms? The incubation period can be as long as 14 days, but is generally expected to be about five days. This virus does not initially differentiate itself from any other “bugs” going around. Initial symptoms likely include a cough or sneezing, but with or without an elevated temperature. Rarely is there diarrhea. Drinking lots of fluids is very important at this early and all stages of the disease. Milder cases can be treated at home, but if the condition persists or if the lungs become affected, seek professional help.
- How is it transmitted? COVID 19 is not transmitted through the air we breathe, but it is transmitted through mucous droplets. If someone with the disease sneezes or coughs, they should cover their nose or mouth with a tissue or the sleeve at their elbow to avoid spreading the droplets. Be careful of surfaces on which a carrier has had contact (or their sneeze or cough droplets have had contact) as the virus may survive as long as several days. Those diagnosed with the condition should wear a face mask.
- Who is most susceptible? This is where COVID 19 is similar to other flu viruses in that as many as four in five deaths will be among patients 60 years and older. It is not just the age of the patient, however. It is other conditions that weaken their bodies’ ability to fight the virus. Those particularly at risk will be those with high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease. Those who are immune-compromised may also be at greater risk, but it is wise to consult a family physician before sounding alarms.
- How to protect your loved one / yourself? Stand at least three feet away from anyone with whom you are conversing which will lessen the chance of your receiving a stray droplet. Wash hands often according to the WHO guidelines (link is below), avoid touching your face and wipe surfaces with sanitizer materials with at least 60% alcohol content. The World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend face masks for the general population, but patients are encouraged to wear a mask. And then there is the obvious precaution that one ought to avoid contact with COVID 19 patients or travel to geographic areas where cases have been confirmed.
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.