Tips on how to prevent household members from getting sick during flu season

Montefiore Medical Center wants you to have the latest information on influenza (flu) so you can best protect yourself and your family. If you are taking care of someone at home who has H1N1 (swine) flu, it is important for you to prevent other people in the house from getting sick, according to Gary Kalkut, MD, MPH, Senior Vice-President, Chief Medical Officer of Montefiore Medical Center. Dr. Kalkut and his colleagues at Montefiore offer the following information and advice on preventing illness during this flu season.

One of the easiest ways people can protect themselves, their family, and others from getting sick is to clean their hands. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub to prevent getting sick:

  • Especially after coughing and sneezing.
  • After every contact with the sick person.
  • Even after handling the sick person's room or bathroom or their dirty laundry.

Who can take care of someone with the flu?

  • If possible, only one adult in the home should take care of anyone who is sick. Try not to have people with the flu care for infants.
  • People most at risk for flu (pregnant women, those with chronic disease or immune issues) should not take care of people with the flu, if possible.

Caring for someone with the flu

  • Try to keep the sick person from breathing, sneezing or coughing close to your face. If close contact with a sick individual can't be helped, think about wearing a mask to cover your nose and mouth.
  • Try to keep the sick person in a separate room with the door closed. Keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible, especially others who are at high risk of getting sick from the flu.
  • The sick person should not have visitors. A phone call, e-mail or text message is safer than a visit.
  • Do not eat food from dishes and glasses being used by someone who is sick. Dishes and glasses used by a sick person can be washed with the family's dishes.
  • Use separate cloth towels for each person in the household for bathing. Wash bed sheets and towels by using household laundry soap. Dry clothes on a hot setting. Avoid putting laundry used by sick family members against your body before washing it.
  • Keep areas that can be covered by germs clean by wiping them down with a household cleaner daily. These areas include:
    • Bedside tables.
    • The bathroom.
    • Door knobs.
    • Toys.

Managing coughing and sneezing

  • When holding small children who are sick, place their chin on your shoulder so they will not cough in your face.
  • Throw away tissues and other throw-away items used by the sick.
  • If possible, maintain good air flow in shared areas of the home. Open windows in the kitchen and bathroom for a short time to bring in fresh air.

Using medications

If someone already has flu symptoms, over-the-counter cold and flu medications may help. These medications lessen some symptoms such as cough and congestion. Over-the-counter medications may help the sick person to feel better. A sick person can still make others sick up to 24 hours after their symptoms stop and they have stopped taking medication.

  • Children 5 years of age and older and teenagers with the flu can take medicines without aspirin to ease symptoms. These include acetaminophen (Tylenol(R)) and ibuprofen (Advil(R), Motrin(R), Nuprin(R)).
  • Do not give over-the-counter cold medicines to children 4 years old and younger without first speaking with a health care provider. In children 2 and younger, use a cool mist humidifier and a suction bulb to help clear any mucus.
  • Warning! Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) to children or teenagers who have flu-like illness. Aspirin can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome. Check ingredient labels on over-the-counter cold and flu medicines to see if they have aspirin. If they do, do not use these medicines.
  • In adults, fevers and aches can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol(R)) or ibuprofen (Advil(R), Motrin(R), Nuprin(R)), or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Adults with kidney disease or stomach problems should check with their health care provider before using these medications.

Antiviral medicines may help with flu symptoms, but you will need a prescription. Most people with the flu do not need these antiviral drugs to get better. Some people at higher risk for severe flu complications might benefit from antiviral medications.

Influenza infections can lead to, or occur with, bacterial infections. Some people may need to take an antibiotic. More severe illness or illness that seems to get better, but then gets worse again, may be a sign that a person has a bacterial infection. Check with your health care provider if you have concerns.


Montefiore Medical Center


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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