As the cases of COVID-19 increase in the world with evident human fragility, it is easy for people to get anxious. During these four weeks of isolation in Peru, I would like to dedicate this column to a vulnerable population: the elderly. Carlos Vela, former president of the Gerontology and Geriatrics Society, explains that it is the older adults who get pneumonia the most and have higher mortality rates due to other diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart or lung problems. Vela, who was the national director of health for the Red Cross, highlights prevention and isolation measures and recommends, in coordination with the specialist, that people, especially older adults, be vaccinated each year against influenza and twice against pneumococcus. According to the Ministry of Health, 80% of coronavirus cases in the world present as normal flu and are easy to manage. While 20% can make a minor complication. Of these, only 10% need hospitalization when they have complications. The specialist explains the difference between the common cold and the flu. “The cold is a catarrhal condition where there are no systemic symptoms such as fever or general malaise. Instead, the flu has a condition of prostration, decline and inactivity that can be associated with the influenza virus or other viral conditions," she says. “Quarantine gives us a lesson in respect for others to be healthy and safe. Because if I have the flu and I go to work so as not to lose my job, it is irresponsible because I am carrying viruses that will spread and generate the same symptoms in other people,” Vela warns. In older adults, disorientation is a warning sign for any disease, whether or not it is a coronavirus. "If you see a confused, sleepy, listless or hyperactive older adult, something is not right," adding that widespread body pain without necessarily having a fever is another alarming sign. Vela explains that there is a CURB-65 score that gives clinical criteria to determine if an older adult should be hospitalized or treated on an outpatient basis. This medical scale assesses the confusion state, heart rate and high respiratory rate of patients to assess whether or not they are hospitalized. Among the preventive or recovery measures against COVID-19, it is important that anyone, but especially the elderly, consume liquids in abundance since, according to Vela, dehydration is one of the first causes of decompensation in this age group. In Peru, most patients have died from complications not related to COVID-19, but from other chronic diseases like obesity, sleep apnea, coronary heart disease, chronic lung disease or other age-related complications. In countries where there have been a higher number of deaths from the new coronavirus, experimental drugs that are in the clinical trial phase have been giving some results in patients with pulmonary complications. Finally, the expert highlights science and technology as key weapons to defeat viruses and, from the human point of view, an urgent need to reinvent ourselves as human, spiritual and community beings in time of this global emergency.
This column was originally published on RPP News in Spanish and can be accessed here.