Caregivers: Protect Yourself From Swine Flu
Here's what to do if you have to care for someone who is infected with swine (H1N1) flu.
Flu season is upon us. It's possible you may need to care for someone who is infected with swine (H1N1) flu. Knowing what to do is important not just to help that person get better, but to keep yourself and others well, too.
Swine flu can cause symptoms that may include fever (not always present), cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Treatment includes pain relievers, rest, fluids, isolation and, in some cases, antivirals. Most people will get over swine flu without medical care.
If you are pregnant, age 65 or older or have an existing medical condition (such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma or HIV), you are at an increased risk for flu-related complications. If possible, ask someone else to care for your ill loved one. Try to stay at least six feet away from the sick person.
If you are a caregiver, follow this advice:
- Don't allow any visitors. Other than the caregiver, the sick person should not have visitors or contact with other family members. The sick person should not leave the house (except to seek medical care) until 24 hours after his or her fever has gone away without fever-reducing medicine.
- Limit contact. Keep the sick person away from others as much as you can. Limit contact with the sick person to one adult caretaker. Take special care to keep pregnant women, small children, the elderly and others with chronic health conditions away from the ill person. If possible, let the sick person have a separate bedroom and bathroom. Avoid being face-to-face. Hold sick kids with their chin on your shoulder so that they won't cough in your face. Ask the sick person to cover his coughs and sneezes to prevent spreading germs.
- Wash your hands often. Everyone in your household, including the ill person, should wash their hands often with soap and water. Spend at least 20 seconds washing your hands each time. If you don't have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash your hands after you touch the sick person or something the sick person has touched, such as used tissues or dirty laundry.
- Don't share. Avoid sharing towels, utensils or linens. Use disposable paper towels to dry hands after washing, if possible. Throw the paper towel in the trash after one use.If paper towel use is not an option, each person in the house should have a separate towel for their use only. Use a separate color or label for each person.
- Disinfect daily. Keep surfaces clean using a household disinfectant.
- Wear a mask. To avoid catching the flu, consider wearing a facemask when around the sick person. The person who is sick should also wear a mask if he or she will be in contact with anyone else.
- Get fresh air in your home. If possible and if weather permits, open windows for ventilation.
- Ask your doctor about antiviral medication. If you are caring for or are in the same household as a person with swine flu, ask your doctor if you should take antiviral medication.
- Watch for flu symptoms. Check for symptoms in yourself and other household members.
Swine flu vaccine and high-risk groups
The H1N1 vaccine is available now, and experts encourage anyone 6 months of age or older who has not gotten the vaccine to do so. The vaccine is especially important for people in the following high-risk groups:
- Pregnant women and women who gave birth or lost a pregnancy less than two weeks earlier
- Caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age
- Health care workers
- Children and young adults from 6 months through 24 years old
- People 25 through 64 years old who have existing health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma or HIV, which raise the risk for flu-related complications
Note that the regular seasonal flu vaccine will not protect you from swine flu.