Seniors and Zika Virus
The first outbreak of the Zika virus occurred in 2007 according to the World Health Organization. Transmitted by infected mosquito bites, it has been quickly traveling from continent to continent in alarming numbers.
For most people, the Zika virus is an uncomfortable, but relatively safe illness. Symptoms include fever, skin rashes and conjunctivitis. Right now, there is no cure or vaccine for the disease so the most typical treatment is to address the symptoms themselves. This includes taking over-the-counter pain medications and fever reducers, combined with a high amount of fluids and plenty of rest.
Seniors, however, are often at a disadvantage when it comes to the Zika virus or any other illness. Older adults quite often have weaker immune systems than they did when they were younger, and that makes it more difficult for their bodies to fight off infections. If an elderly loved one begins showing signs of the Zika virus, it’s important to help him or her seek medical attention immediately.
Preventing the Zika Virus
Unfortunately there is no way to protect against the Zika virus itself. The best way to reduce a senior's risk of contracting the virus is to limit his or her exposure to mosquitos if at all possible. Those who live in the Southeastern United States need to be especially cautious, as their environment is more conducive to mosquito breeding year round than other parts of the country.
To help reduce exposure to mosquitos, seniors should:
- Use a good insect repellant. Covering at-risk people with an effective bug spray will help keep mosquitoes away.
- Dress in long clothes. Limiting a person’s skin's exposure is an easy and relatively affective way to prevent mosquito bites and mosquito-born diseases. Wearing light-colored long sleeve shirts and pants will help minimize exposure.
- Destroy breeding grounds. Female mosquitoes are the ones that bite people, so limiting the areas where they will reproduce will help keep them away. Mosquitoes lay eggs in stagnant water, so empty bird baths and other pools of water from around the house. After a rainstorm, check the property for water that has built up on lawn ornaments or tools and dump the water out.
- Put up screens and hang netting. Make sure to use porches with screens or mosquito nets. This will allow the senior to spend time outdoors while significantly limiting the risk of infection. If someone wants to work in a garden or do other backyard activities, avoid times when mosquitos may be out such as dawn or dusk or wear a mosquito net.
Tips for Keeping Seniors Healthy and Safe
Many diseases can be spread by mosquitoes, so checking for signs and symptoms of illness are an important part of care for seniors. Elderly people who already have a chronic disease or illness are at an especially high risk for experiencing complications from a virus like Zika or influenza.
To help keep seniors safe from other illnesses, make sure they are receiving their vaccines each year. A healthy diet and exercise can also strengthen their immune system. In addition, older adults should eat balanced meals including plenty of vegetables, especially leafy green ones like spinach or kale, lean proteins and heart-healthy whole grains.