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Your child or your spouse is down with the flu. You're okay for now. But you know how quickly the flu virus can spread through your household, with new victims getting infected just by touching a contaminated object, like a door knob or telephone, and then touching their face. Can you care for the sick while keeping yourself and other family members safe from infection?
Yes, you can. The first step is to get vaccinated for the flu, but you should still block germs and increase your resistance to infection. Here's how:
1. Keep Your Hands Clean
Wash your hands throughout the day and immediately after you've touched anything handled by The Infected One. A thorough washing (scrubbing for 20 seconds with ordinary soap and water and rinsing well) does the trick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Antibacterial soaps offer no additional advantage.
Equally effective is rubbing a quarter-size dollop of alcohol-based hand sanitizer all over your hands until it evaporates. Hand sanitizer also is convenient to leave strategically placed around the house. In particular, leave a bottle inside the door of the sick person’s room to use before exiting.
2. Stop Touching Your Face!
More than anything, this habit enables viruses to access the vulnerable mucous membranes of your respiratory tract. It's a hard habit to break, acknowledges Charles Gerba, Ph.D. author of The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu. The typical adult touches his or her face around 15 times an hour. A small child? Up to 81 times an hour. “Try to become aware it and stop yourself when you can,” says Gerba.
3. Stand Back
The CDC advises avoiding close contact with those infected with flu, staying at least 6 feet away whenever possible. If you must approach, remind your patient to turn away when coughing, and sneeze into a disposable tissue or into their upper sleeve. When holding a sick child, avoid face-to-face contact by placing his or her chin on your shoulder.
To the extent that it is possible, confine your patient to a bedroom and its nearest bathroom. With teenagers and adults, consider leaving food, water and other necessities on a tray by the door. Disinfect the returned objects.
As difficult as it can be to isolate children, it can help limit the spread of infection, Gerber says. “Our studies show that children with flu turn homes into minefields as they wander around the house touching things,” he explains. With a baby or small child, try having one designated caregiver in the room, with arrangements for relief at designated intervals.