Caring for family members with seasonal and 2009 H1N1 flu

National Influenza Vaccination Week (January 10-16, 2010) is an opportunity to remind the public that vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu and the importance of continuing influenza vaccination after the holiday season and beyond.  This flu season could be worse than usual with more people getting sick. The good news is that most people can be cared for at home and will feel better in about a week. As we approach the mid-point of flu season, APIC offers these tips on how to create a sick room in your home (adapted from material published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Make a Separate Sick Room, if You Can
Keeping the person with flu in a separate sick room can help keep others in the family from getting the flu. Take these steps to create a separate sick room:

  • Try to give the sick person their own room. If there is more than one sick person, they can share the sick room if needed
  • If you have more than one bathroom, have sick people use one bathroom and well people use the other one
  • Give each sick person their own drinking glass, washcloth and towel

Have these items in the sick room

  • Tissues
  • Trash can with lid and lined with a plastic trash bag
  • Alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cooler or pitcher with ice and drinks
  • Cup with straw or squeeze bottle to help with drinking
  • Thermometer (with covers if used for more than one person)
  • Humidifier
  • Facemasks (Sick people should wear a facemask if available when they leave the sick room or are around other people.)

Follow the Sick Room Rules
Protect well family members from getting the flu. If the sick person must leave the room to go to the bathroom or to the doctor, ask them to wear a facemask. No facemask at home? Ask the sick person to use a tissue to cover their coughs and sneezes.

Follow these four sick room rules:
1. Avoid having other people enter the sick room. The sick person should not have visitors other than the caregiver. If visitors must enter, they should stay at least 6 feet away from the sick person.
2. Cover coughs and sneezes. Ask the sick person to cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they cough and sneeze. Ask them to throw used tissues in the trash.
3. Choose one caregiver.  If you can, choose only one caregiver to take care of sick family members. If possible, ask someone else to be the caregiver if you are pregnant or have certain chronic health problems. If you get the flu, it could be much more serious for you.
4. Keep the air clean. Open a window in the sick room, if possible.

How to Clean the Sick Room
You’ll want to clean the sick room each day. Follow these tips:

Cleaning hard surfaces

  • Clean surfaces that may have flu germs on them. These may include doorknobs, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, phones, and toys
  • Clean these hard surfaces by using water and dish soap. Or use common household cleaners that kill germs

Cleaning bed linens and laundry

  • Wash bed sheets and towels with normal laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot dryer setting. Hold all dirty laundry away from your face and body. Wash your hands right after touching dirty laundry
  • It’s OK to wash the sick person’s bedding or clothes with other people’s laundry
    Cleaning dishes — wash the sick person’s dishes with normal dish soap or place in the dishwasher 

Tips for Caregivers – It’s Important for YOU to Stay Healthy
When caring for people who have the flu:

  • Avoid being face-to-face with the sick person, and limit time with them if possible.
  • When holding sick children, place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face
  • Wash your hands often and the right way. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times or count slowly to 20 as you wash
  • Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
  • Clean your hands after touching the sick person, their tissues or laundry 

Adapted from literature published by the CDC – Caring for Someone Sick at Home