How Do Seniors Recognize Breakthrough Covid?

Nearly 80 percent of San Diego residents have been fully vaccinated with the coronavirus vaccine, and the majority of new cases in San Diego County are among the unvaccinated. Vaccinated residents can still get COVID-19 in what is called a breakthrough case, as the virus has successfully broken through the vaccine’s defenses. The impact and duration of breakthrough COVID-19 is generally milder and shorter, but seniors experience about 70 percent of breakthrough hospitalizations. Seniors and caregivers in San Diego should be concerned about breakthrough COVID-19’s confusing symptoms because they’re often confused for allergies, colds or sinus infections. Here’s how to recognize a possible breakthrough case of COVID-19 to avoid spreading the virus and delaying life-saving treatment.

Breakthrough COVID-19 More Serious for Seniors

Breakthrough COVID-19 occurs in vaccinated people who develop a COVID-19 infection despite having two full doses of one of the approved vaccines. That infection can affect patients in a variety of ways from asymptomatic (no symptoms at all), to mild symptoms, to severe symptoms that result in hospitalization or even death. The vaccine seems to greatly reduce the impact and strength of a coronavirus infection, so breakthrough COVID-19 is generally milder than full-strength COVID-19. But, as the AARP website says, “[O]n the rare occasion that a vaccinated person does fall seriously ill with COVID-19…it’s likely to be an older adult. About 70 percent of breakthrough infections that have required hospitalization have been in adults 65 and older, the latest CDC data shows. This population also accounts for 87 percent of breakthrough deaths.” Older people with underlying medical conditions are also more likely to be hospitalized.

The Symptoms of COVID-19

The symptoms of breakthrough COVID-19 vary just enough from those of ‘regular’ COVID-19 that breakthrough patients are often unsure about what’s wrong with them. Seniors think they’re coming down with a cold, experiencing allergies or maybe developing a sinus infection because they’re vaccinated and can’t possibly have COVID-19. They’re not getting tested, (self)isolating, going to the doctor, or getting monoclonal antibody treatment. So what are the typical symptoms of breakthrough COVID-19?

As we have learned in the U.S. since March 2020, the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What Are the Symptoms of Breakthrough COVID-19?

According to a recent ZOE Covid study from the U.K. and further information from U.S. infectious disease doctors, the top symptoms for people with a breakthrough infection were:

  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Congestion
  • Stuffiness
  • Sore throat
  • Cough and
  • Loss of smell

Breakthrough COVID-19 Symptoms Aren’t Unique

Mistaking a case of breakthrough COVID-19 for several other things that commonly afflict people with allergies, children, or sinus passages is easy enough to do. Vaccinated people sitting at home sneezing and wiping a drippy nose aren’t going to immediately assume they have COVID-19 if they don’t have a fever or chills or nausea. But they should. Doctors don’t know exactly how cold and flu season will combine with the ongoing spread of the Delta variant to assail vaccinated immune systems, but they’re calling it a ‘twindemic.’

Seniors need to be as careful during Winter 2021 as they were in Winter 2020 about protecting themselves from the spread of COVID-19. Masks, social distancing and serious consideration of holiday social gatherings are just as important this year as last year. Anyone providing or receiving San Diego home care should be vigilant about even one or two of the possible breakthrough symptoms and consider breakthrough COVID-19 as a possibility before assuming it’s ‘just’ anything else.