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Advice for older Americans as coronavirus spreads

Danielle Garrand

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some advice for older Americans who are at a higher risk of getting "very sick" from coronavirus: "Stock up on supplies" and consider taking steps to avoid crowds. Here is a rundown of the latest guidance and a look at who is most at risk.

Who is at "higher risk" from coronavirus?

The CDC defines "higher risk" people as older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, emphasized during a telebriefing Monday that the risk increases as a person gets older.

"I really think it's important for the American public to understand the risk," Messonnier said. "We use these broad categories of over 60 or over 65, but the data really says that as you get older the risk goes up."

She said the most serious risk of illness and death from coronavirus is in people over 80, especially if they have underlying health conditions.

Stock up on your medicines

On the CDC's website, health officials advised those at a higher risk of becoming very sick from coronavirus to make sure they have a supply of their regular medications on hand, just in case there's an outbreak in their community and they need to stay home for a prolonged period of time. Inquire about obtaining extra medications from your health care provider or use a mail-order service for medications. 

The agency also reminded Americans to make sure they have enough over-the-counter medicines, like something to relieve a fever, plus medical supplies and household items such as tissues.

The guidance comes as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. has risen to over 500. 

The illness is blamed for at least 24 deaths in the U.S. as of Monday — a fraction of the more than 3,800 deaths worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 110,000 people have caught the virus globally, but the Johns Hopkins data show that almost half — more than 62,000 — have recovered.

The health risks associated with the virus rise significantly with age, and many younger, otherwise healthy people who contract it show only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Messonier said that based on information from China, where the outbreak began, about 80% of patients had mild cases and recovered, while 15% to 20% developed more serious illness. Only about 2% of cases affected children.