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How to Protect You and Your Family from COVID-19, the new coronavirus

Andrew Holtz
Mar 16 · 5 min read

The latest data on the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) has identified elderly members and people living with preexisting conditions as populations particularly vulnerable to the disease (Wu and McGoogan 2020).

There are three main conclusions that can be made from the recent report:

(1) Relatively healthy individuals have a low risk of developing serious symptoms from the virus and an even lower risk of death. This includes children and people less than 50 years old.

(2) Having any preexisting conditions or diseases, also known as comorbidities and coinfections, substantially increases the risk of developing serious symptoms from the virus.

(3) Aging populations often have preexisting conditions, and are, therefore, the most vulnerable to this highly transmissible disease.

We all know that hoarding food, spreading fear, and stocking up on a year’s supply of toilet paper is ineffective, but from this report, we have learned that there are some effective immediate actions you can take to help protect our communities against the virus.

1. Stay Up-to-Date on Vaccinations

There is no vaccination for COVID-19 and efforts to create a vaccine are estimated to be about 18 months away from a product. That being said, keeping up-to-date with recommended vaccinations against other infectious diseases will reduce your risk for developing COVID-19 clinical disease. These vaccinations already exist and are readily available. Consult your doctor to be sure you and your aging family members are up-to-date on vaccinations. If you are unsure, repeat the vaccination. Vaccinations will also help ease the pressure on health services by keeping you away from hospitals for preventable diseases. You will also keep your immune system focused on eliminating COVID-19. The flu vaccine will also reduce the number of misidentified COVID-19 cases, since flu and COVID-19 share symptoms. Additional vaccinations recommended for people ages 50 and older are S. pneumoniae, shingles, tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis. It has been shown that acquired immunity from these vaccinations decreases overtime, and the CDC and European CDC recommend vaccination boosters every 10 years for individuals aged 50+. Proper protection against these diseases will provide your immune system the energy, focus, and time to properly eliminate COVID-19 if you come into contact with it (Weinberger 2018).

2. Manage Chronic Diseases

Ensuring that you, your parents, and grandparents are properly handling any chronic disease is vital to avoid becoming at risk for developing a critical COVID-19 case. The Chinese CDC reported that chronic disease substantially increases your risk of developing serious symptoms[a] . Luckily, most of these diseases are manageable with lifestyle management and medications. The risk of illness remains present for individuals unable to control their disease. Anyone who has not seen their doctor in over one year should make an appointment for a checkup, and individuals living with a chronic illness should take steps to keep you or your aging family members’ illnesses under control.

3. Stop Smoking

There is some preliminary evidence that smoking is a risk factor for developing serious symptoms from COVID-19. In a recent study, Dr. Yael Bar-Zeev, a public health physician at the Hebrew University’s Braun School of Public Health, showed that among 80 COVID-19 patients, those who smoked had a 14 times higher risk of developing serious symptoms (Surkes 2020). Smoking is known to lead to hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and chronic respiratory disease as well, such as COPD and lung cancer (Johns Hopkins University 2020) . In addition to chronic lung diseases, smoking significantly decreases your immune response to infection, which leaves smoking populations particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 infection (Qiu et al. 2017). Similarities of COVID-19 to the flu have been reported, and it is widely known that smoking increases your risk of being hospitalized if you have the flu. Therefore, a link can be made that there is substantial chance that smoking increases your risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19 As new data surfaces in the coming weeks, it will be clearer, but for now it might be the time to finally kick a smoking habit.

4. Detect Signs of Malnutrition

As is common with most infectious diseases, malnutrition and dehydration significantly decrease your body’s ability to ward off infection. Malnutrition susceptibility increases later in life[b] , and even just a 10% reduction in lean tissue has been shown to impair immunity and increase infection risk (Hickson 2006). One way to protect your aging family member is to assess risk of malnutrition using this survey designed by the Nestle Nutrition Institute (https://www.mna-elderly.com/forms/mini/mna_mini_english.pdf).

5. Follow CDC and WHO Recommendations

The CDC has outlined specific guidelines to follow to avoid COVID-19 transmission. Limiting transmission has been shown to be paramount in preventing the spread of the disease, and for this disease in particular proper hand-washing is highly effective. The CDC recommends the following 6 additional steps to limit transmission:

(1) Avoid close contact with people who are sick
(2) Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
(3) Stay home while sick
(4) Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze
(5) Disinfect items you or others frequently touch
(6) Wear a face mask if you have symptoms to avoid transmitting the virus (CDC 2020)

According to the data reported and analyzed by Chinese CDC, living a healthy lifestyle is vital in avoiding serious outcomes from COVID-19. To protect yourself and aging family members, follow the recommendations above. The healthier individuals are, the harder it is for the virus to become symptomatic, which means fewer opportunities for the virus to transmit.

If you are looking for ways to turn your COVID-19 fear into action, follow the recommendations above. Don’t give COVID-19 the opportunity to infect. Protect yourself and your family.


[a] Case Fatality Ratios (CFR) for those living with comorbid conditions — 10.5% for cardiovascular disease, 7.3% for diabetes, 6.3% for chronic respiratory disease, 6.0% for hypertension, and 5.6% for cancer (Wu and McGoogan 2020)

[b] An estimated 83% of adults aged 65 and older living in community-living homes are at risk for malnutrition (Mangels 2018)


Hickson, M. 2006. “Malnutrition and Ageing.” Postgraduate Medical Journal. BMJ Publishing Group. https://doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.2005.037564

Mangels, Ann Reed. 2018. “Malnutrition in Older Adults”. AJN, American Journal of Nursing 118 (3): 34–41. http://journals.lww.com/00000446-201803000-00023

“Prevention, Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC.” n.d. Accessed March 1, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

Qiu, Feifei, Chun Ling Liang, Huazhen Liu, Yu Qun Zeng, Shaozhen Hou, Song Huang, Xiaoping Lai, and Zhenhua Dai. 2017. “Impacts of Cigarette Smoking on Immune Responsiveness: Up and down or Upside Down?” Oncotarget 8 (1): 268–84. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.13613

“Smoking and Respiratory Diseases | Johns Hopkins Medicine.” Accessed March 1, 2020. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/smoking-and-respiratory-diseases

Surkes, Sue. n.d. “Smokers Appear to Be at Higher Risk from Coronavirus — Expert | The Times of Israel.” Accessed March 16, 2020. https://www.timesofisrael.com/smokers-appear-to-be-at-higher-risk-from-coronavirus-expert/

Weinberger, Birgit. 2018. “Vaccines for the Elderly: Current Use and Future Challenges.” Immunity and Ageing. BioMed Central Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12979-017-0107-2

Wu, Zunyou, and Jennifer M McGoogan. 2020. “Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72 314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.” JAMA, February. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.2648

Andrew Holtz

Written by

Current MSc student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studying Infectious Disease Control and COVID-19

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