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Coronavirus: What Older Adults Need to Know

Chances are you’re reading daily news reports about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. While people of all ages are on heightened alert, older adults may be particularly concerned. Read on for a few important facts that older adults should know about the coronavirus.

Are older adults more vulnerable?

According to the national Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, preliminary reports indicate older adults and people with underlying health conditions may be at higher risk for COVID-19. Since the novel coronavirus is a respiratory illness, it stands to reason older adults and anyone with chronic health conditions may suffer more complications if infected, similar to increased vulnerability to the flu. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of U.S. adults have at least one underlying health condition. These conditions hinder the body’s ability to cope with and recover from illness. Also, as we age, our immune systems don’t have the same ability to fight viruses and bacteria, and our lungs become less elastic and resilient.

This doesn’t mean turning 65 automatically puts you at higher risk. Individuals of all ages with pre-existing conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may want to take extra precautions.

How do I know if I have the coronavirus or the flu?

It’s easy to confuse the novel coronavirus with the flu. Here’s a summary of their similarities and differences. It’s best to air on the side of caution and, at the first sign of any symptoms, let your healthcare provider recommend next steps for proper diagnosis.

Cause—COVID-19 is caused by one virus, the novel 2019 coronavirus. The flu is caused by several different types and strains of influenza viruses.

Symptoms—Both may cause mild to severe symptoms, including fever, cough, body aches, fatigue, and pneumonia. COVID-19 symptoms may also include shortness of breath.

Transmission—Both can be spread from person to person through droplets in the air from an infected person coughing, sneezing, or talking. It’s not yet confirmed if COVID-19 may be spread through airborne droplets that remain in the air after the ill person is no longer nearby.

Find about more about the coronavirus and the flu, how to prevent the coronavirus, Medicare and the coronavirus, and helpful coronavirus resources.