“Nowhere to run to, baby. Nowhere to hide.”
This classic tune by Martha & the Vandellas might run through some caregivers heads when the ones they are caring for get sick. With the flu season gearing up, everyone is telling us to avoid people who are sick with the flu, but caregivers certainly don’t always have that option. It doesn’t help much that caregivers often put themselves last on the priority list for rest either. So the question becomes: hOther than trying to get a flu shot early in the season, how does a caregiver take action to protect themselves from the flu? The answer – follow these guidelines:
Protecting Yourself While Caring for Others:
If you are taking care of someone at home who has the flu, protect yourself and the other people in the household.
- Avoid being face-to face with the sick person
- When holding small children who are sick, place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face
- Clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub after you touch the sick person or handle used tissues or laundry
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or, mouth
- Talk to your healthcare provider about taking antiviral medication to prevent you from getting the flu
Protect Other Persons in the Home
If possible, have only one adult in the home take care of the sick person.
- The sick person should not have visitors other than caregivers. An email or phone call is safer than a visit.
- Pregnant women should not care for the sick person due to suppressed immunity during pregnancy
- If you are in a high risk group for complications from influenza, you should avoid close contact (within 6 feet) with the sick person
- All persons in the household should clean hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub frequently and after every contact with the sick person or the person’s room or bathroom
- Use paper towels for drying hands after hand washing, or dedicate cloth towels (different colors) to each person in the household
- Try to maintain good ventilation in shared household areas (keeping windows open in bathrooms and kitchen)
- Talk to a healthcare provider about antiviral medications household members can take to prevent the flu
Placement of the Sick Person
Keep the sick person in a room separate from the common areas of the house with the door closed if possible.
- Unless necessary for medical care or other necessities, people who are sick with an influenza-like illness should stay home and keep away from others as much as possible for at least 24 hours after fever is gone.
- Children, especially younger children, might potentially be contagious for longer periods
- Sick persons should use a separate bathroom if possible. This bathroom should be cleaned daily with household disinfectant.
- Remind the sick person to cover their coughs and sneezes and wash their hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, especially after coughing and sneezing.
Household Cleaning, Laundry and Waste Disposal
To maintain your health and others, follow certain cleaning disposal procedures.
- Throw away tissues and other disposable items used by the sick person in the trash. Wash your hands after touching used tissues and similar waste.
- Keep surfaces (bedside tables, bathroom counters, doorknobs, and children’s toys) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant
- Linens, eating utensils, and dishes do not need to be cleaned separately, but these items should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Utensils and dishes should be washed in the dishwasher or by hand with soap and water.
- Avoid “hugging” laundry prior to washing it to prevent contaminating yourself. Wash linens with laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Always wash hands after handling laundry.
Talk to a healthcare provider about medications to help lessen symptoms of the flu as well as any special care that might be needed, especially if the sick person is pregnant or has a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma or emphysema.
In the midst of caring for others, don’t forget to care for yourself first by taking action. Get your vaccination early and implement these steps to knockout the flu this season.
*Preventative information taken from http://www.flu.gov/individualfamily/caregivers/index.html
Research & Community Education