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Coronavirus Is 'Angel of Death' for Seniors

Coronavirus Is 'Angel of Death' for Seniors
(EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 09 March 2020 01:45 PM

The coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, is stalking seniors, killing them 10 times more frequently than its younger victims, especially if they already have an underlying health conditions, medical officials report. 

Last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised older Americans and those with health problems to "stay home as much as possible." The CDC has also stated older adults are "at higher risk" of serious health repercussions if they’re infected with COVID-19.

On Sunday, the State Department issued an advisory urging all travelers to avoid cruise vacations for now, especially those who are older or have underlying health issues to avoid cruise ships.

"We want people who are older, people who have medical conditions, to take steps to protect themselves," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told CNN’s "State of the Union," "including avoiding crowded spaces, including thinking very carefully about whether or not now is the time to get on that cruise ship, whether now is the time to take that long haul flight.

"For most people you’re going to be fine," he said. "But if you have medical conditions, or you’re older, now is the time to rethink that."

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Saturday that seniors should avoid crowds, "especially in poorly ventilated spaces."

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The shocking toll the virus takes on seniors was most evident at King County’s Life Care Center in Washington, where 16 residents died from an infection that apparently circulated undetected for weeks. Losing 16 of 76 residents, even if all of them were infected, is a mortality rate of 21%.

On "Meet the Press" Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned the elderly and sick are "overwhelmingly" more likely to get serious complications.

"This will be a recommendation," Fauci said. "If you’re a person with an underlying condition and you are particularly an elderly person with an underlying condition, you need to think twice about getting on a plane, on a long trip. And not only think twice. Just don’t get on a cruise ship."

The dean of Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Peter Hotez, used much stronger language. He told Congress last week the coronavirus "is like the angel of death for older individuals."

For comparison purposes, keep in mind the combined fatality rate for the seasonal flu, among all age groups, is 0.01%.   

The COVID-19 mortality rate is far higher than that, based on over 70,000 cases in China. And the older you get, the more dangerous it is.

According to the World Health Organization’s analysis of the data provided by the Chinese, the chance of dying if you catch the disease depends heavily on one’s age, as follows:

  • Those 80-plus have a fatality rate of 14.8%.
  • Those 70-79 have a fatality rate of 8.0%
  • Those 60-69 have a fatality rate of 3.6%
  • Those 50-59 have a fatality rate of 1.3%
  • Those 40-49 have a fatality rate of 0.4%
  • Those 30-39 have a fatality rate of 0.2%
  • Those 20-29 have a fatality rate of 0.2%
  • Those 10-19 have a fatality rate of 0.2%

Parents of small children will be relieved to learn there have been no reported fatalities involving anyone under age 10.

Some studies indicate the overall fatality rate for the novel coronavirus is 2.2%, although WHO came up with a significantly higher figure, 3.4%. But the main takeaway for those 70 and over is that their mortality risk is at least 4 to 5 times greater than that of others. 

The far greater likelihood seniors could suffer serious, even fatal effects from the disease may explain why the CDC reportedly recommended to the White House that elderly and health-compromised Americans should be advised not to travel via commercial airlines.

The Associated Press reported the White House nixed that proposed recommendation. On "Fox News Sunday," Fauci stated, "I can tell you right away, that no one overruled anyone about saying this."

Members of the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, who is coordinating the administration coronavirus response, have said those in high-risk groups should reconsider their travel plans in light of the virus.  

Of course, most of those infected by virus suffer from a cough and fever and recover within a few weeks. But about 14% of victims will develop severe breathing problems, and about 6.1% require critical care.

Age isn’t the only variable, however. Health authorities warn anyone with underlying cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, or hypertension may also face a greater risk.

Harvard epidemiology professor Michael Mina told WebMD.com, "There seems to be this threshold – below 35 we’re seeing practically zero [cases]. As people increase in age from their 40s to 80s, we’re seeing mortality increase."

There is even evidence to suggest smokers, and possibly even people living in heavily polluted areas – a situation that is not uncommon in China -- are more vulnerable.

It’s also important to remember that health varies widely, so universal averages may not apply to the risks faced by specific individuals. Peter Beilenson, a health official in Sacramento, told the Los Angeles Times, "A healthy 72-year-old is not at as great a risk as an unhealthy 72-year-old."

The Associated Press reported that Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious-disease expert, stated, "The clear message to people who fit into those [vulnerable] categories is, ‘You ought to become a semi-hermit. You’ve got to really get serious in your persona life about social distancing, and in particular avoiding crowds of any kind.’"

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The coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China is stalking seniors, killing them 10 times more frequently than its younger victims, especially if they already have an underlying health conditions, medical officials report.
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Monday, 09 March 2020 01:45 PM
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