The novel coronavirus, also called COVID-19, has infected hundreds of thousands of people in the last few months and managed to kill tens of thousands of them. While this illness only takes the lives of about two percent of those it infects, elderly people and those with compromised immunity are more likely to suffer from serious complications after contracting COVID-19.
As the virus spreads around the globe, seniors and people with chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma are being advised to stock up on the necessities and stay home for the next few weeks to avoid getting COVID-19.
Not everyone elderly or who has an underlying condition will be able to avoid contracting the coronavirus. However, there is some hope for seniors and the immunocompromised to survive this disease. The key, it appears, lies in medical advancements for some and the absence of underlying conditions for others.
Recently, a senior man was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus shortly after his 100th birthday. The man, known by his surname, Wang, had prior health conditions including Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, and heart failure, making him a high-risk case. However, doctors used blood from recovered patients to help his body combat the disease more effectively. Donor blood plasma provided immune proteins to boost his immune system on two separate occasions, and Mr. Wang was able to recover from the disease in about two weeks.
Essentially, the transfusion allows the patient’s body to use pre-made antibodies to fight disease rather than creating its own antibodies. This type of treatment has been used on a local level in China to help cure high-risk patients, but this is the first time someone this old was saved by the method.
“Considering the patient was very old and he had a relatively weak immune system, we decided to use recovered coronavirus patient’s blood plasma as the main treatment,” Cai Chen, Mr. Wang’s doctor, told the press.
“The fact that we used anti-virus blood serum [from recovered patients] to cure the centenarian is going to boost the confidence of other patients,” says Zeng Li, director of the hospital’s infection department.
However, because the antibodies are taken from people who recovered from the disease, there is a limited supply, and not everyone can be treated in this manner.
Shortly after this happened, a 103-year-old woman recovered from COVID-19 as well, making her the oldest person so far to survive the disease. Zhang Guangfen is from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the virus’s outbreak, but she only spent six days in the hospital before being well enough to be released.
Zhang Guangfen was not provided with blood plasma from recovered patients, but she miraculously survived and was allowed to return home despite her old age. Doctors are attributing her recovery to her healthy lifestyle and the fact that she did not have any underlying conditions aside from mild chronic bronchitis before contracting the virus.
These are not the only cases of elderly people surviving the virus either. A 101-year-old man reportedly recovered from COVID-19 around the same time, and as we learn more about the virus and how to treat it, other elderly people and people with underlying conditions are sure to begin pulling through as well.
In the near future, researchers hope to be able to develop a drug that works in the same way as the anti-virus blood serum but that can be produced on a mass scale in order to reach everyone who needs it. Plans are also in the works for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Hang in there, folks! We’re all just doing the best we can during this difficult time.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?