The Effect of the Zika Virus on the Older Adult

Unless you have been living under the proverbial “rock,” it would be hard to ignore the everyday news reports on the Zika virus, which is now considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a global emergency. Although much of the attention has been on the virus’ effect on pregnant woman, also at risk are children and what some would call “the elderly.”

I have had several dialogues recently with a variety of experts in the health care, technology, law and marketing realms about the definition of the terms “elderly,” “older adult” and “senior.”  While the breadth of this topic will not be addressed here, nonetheless, one should take the Zika advisories seriously regardless of your age.

For most, the Zika virus symptoms are fever, skin rashes, joint pain and red eyes or conjunctivitis with the symptoms lasting several days to a week.  While considered a “safe” virus, there is no cure or vaccine for this disease and treatment is limited to the symptoms themselves, such as over the counter pain and fever reducing medications, increase in fluid intake and rest.

But those whose immune systems are already compromised are much more vulnerable to becoming infected from the bite of this mosquito.  As we age, we tend to develop co-morbidities or the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases, illnesses or chronic conditions.  Our body’s natural mechanism for combating illness is busy dealing with our present illness and has little internal “fight” left for another one like this virus.

So not only are we left vulnerable, but if we do contract the virus under such circumstances, the likelihood of complications rises as well.  It can take longer to recover from the virus and the symptoms themselves may be more severe.

This is where the importance of up to date immunizations can become crucial.  Vaccines stimulate the body’s immune response to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease.  While it may not completely prevent us from contracting the illness, nonetheless it can drastically reduce its effect and can help protect us against the onslaught of a new disease or health condition.

For those traveling abroad, Consumer Reports recently updated its list of best insect repellents to protect against Zika. This list includes those that protect against a very specific type of mosquito, which prefers daytime activity.

“The most effective products against this mosquito is Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour, which each contain 20 percent picaridin, and Off! Deepwoods VIII, which contains 25 percent deet. These products kept mosquitoes from biting for about eight hours. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, containing 30 percent lemon eucalyptus, stopped bites for seven hours.”

Applying the product to your outer clothing (or purchase clothing treated with it) and, as with any mosquito-borne condition, the normal precautions of wearing light colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants, tucking your pants into your socks when outdoors and avoiding scented skin care products always makes sense.  If you are a caregiver, be sure that both of you are protected when venturing out of doors.  While it may seem that the elderly person is more at risk, you are as well so don’t skip taking care of yourself too.

While it is reasonable to “assume” that seniors and/or the elderly will be more susceptible to the effects of the Zika virus, it should be noted that there have not yet been any reports of this being the case with Zika.  Dr. Amesh Adalja, a board-certified infectious disease specialist and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has noted, “It will be an important research question to determine if certain subgroups, including the elderly, are at higher risk for some of the more severe complications such as [paralysis disorder] Guillain-Barré syndrome.”

If an older loved one begins showing signs of the Zika virus, it is important to help them seek medical attention immediately. If you have friends or family visiting from a Zika-affected country, there’s a possibility that you could get the infection. In addition to the mosquito that carries the disease, health officials now know that Zika can stay in a person’s bodily fluid long after symptoms of the infection disappear  Additionally, men who are infected with the virus are able to transmit it through sexual contact, so condom use is another key way to prevent the spread of Zika. –

In reality, if we are taking good care of ourselves through diet, exercise, regular checkups and management of our existing health conditions, then protection from this virus is just another precaution we can add to our list of things we can do to stay healthy.  But along with this, being watchful for the virus signs and symptoms will go a long way towards keeping us healthy

References:

Dixon, Laura. “Are Elderly At Risk Of The Zika Virus.”  Web blog post. Vital. IntraHealth International, 19 April  2016. Web. 18 May 2016.

Sagon, Candy. “What Is The Zika Virus Risk For Older Adults.” Web blog post. AARP, 12 Feb. 2016. Web. 18 May 2016.

 

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