Expert Advice on Common Diseases
Steps Lessen Swine Flu
When providing care to a household member who is sick with influenza, the most important ways to protect yourself and others who are not sick are to:
- Keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible.
- Remind the sick person to cover their coughs, and wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often, especially after coughing and/or sneezing.
- Have everyone in the household clean their hands often, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Ask your healthcare provide if household contacts of the sick person, particularly those contacts that may have chronic health conditions, should take antiviral medications such as oseltemivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®) to prevent the flu.
Placement of the Sick Person
- Keep the sick person in a room separate from the common areas of the house. (For example, a spare bedroom with its own bathroom, if that’s possible.) Keep the sickroom door closed.
- Unless necessary for medical care, persons with the swine flu should not leave the home when they have a fever or during the time that they are most likely to spread their infection to others (seven days after onset of symptoms in adults, and 10 days after onset of symptoms in children).
- If persons with the flu need to leave the home (for example, for medical care), they should cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and wear a loose-fitting surgical mask if available.
- Have the sick person wear a surgical mask if they need to be in a common area of the house near other persons.
- If possible, sick persons should use a separate bathroom. This bathroom should be cleaned daily with household disinfectant (see below).
Protect Other People in the Home
- The sick person should not have visitors other than caregivers. A phone call is safer than a visit.
- If possible, have only one adult in the home take care of the sick person.
- Avoid having pregnant women care for the sick person. (Pregnant women are at increased risk of influenza-related complications, and immunity can be suppressed during pregnancy).
- All persons in the household should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub frequently, including 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 to each person in the household. For example, have different-colored towels for each person.
- Maintain good ventilation in shared household areas (e.g., keep windows open in restrooms, kitchen, bathroom, etc.).
- Antivirals can be used to prevent the flu, so check with your healthcare provider to see if some persons in the home should use antiviral medications.
If You Are the Caregiver
- Avoid being face-to-face with the sick person.
- When holding small children who are sick, place their chin on your shoulder so that they will not cough in your face.
- Clean your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub after you touch the sick person or handle used tissues, or laundry.
- Caregivers might catch flu from the person they are caring for and then the caregiver might be able to spread the flu to others before the caregiver shows symptoms. Therefore, the caregiver should wear a mask when they leave their home to keep from spreading flu to others in case they are in the early stages of infection.
- Talk to your health care provider about taking antiviral medication to prevent the caregiver from getting the flu.
- Monitor yourself and household members for flu symptoms and contact a telephone hotline or health care provider if symptoms occur.
The Swine Flu: Using Face Masks or Respirators
- Avoid close contact (less than about six feet away) with the sick person as much as possible.
- If you must have close contact with the sick person (for example, hold a sick infant), spend the least amount of time possible in close contact and try to wear a facemask (for example, surgical mask) or N95 disposable respirator.
- An N95 respirator that fits snugly on your face can filter out small particles that can be inhaled around the edges of a face mask, but compared with a face mask it is harder to breathe through an N95 mask for long periods of time.
- Face masks and respirators may be purchased at a pharmacy, building supply or hardware store.
- Wear an N95 respirator if you help a sick person with respiratory treatments using a nebulizer or inhaler, as directed by their doctor. Respiratory treatments should be performed in a separate room away from common areas of the house when at all possible.
- Used face masks and N95 respirators should be taken off and placed immediately in the regular trash so they don’t touch anything else.
- Avoid reusing disposable facemasks and N95 respirators if possible. If a reusable fabric face mask is used, it should be laundered with normal laundry detergent and tumble-dried in a hot dryer.
- After you take off a face mask or N95 respirator, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
The Swine Flu: Household Cleaning, Laundry, and Waste Disposal
- 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 (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.
- Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not need to be cleaned separately, but these items should not be shared without washing thoroughly first.
- Wash linens (such as bed sheets and towels) by using household laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Avoid “hugging” laundry prior to washing it to prevent contaminating yourself. Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub right after handling dirty laundry.
- Eating utensils should be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap.