When Germ Warfare Invades Your Home: Reducing The Spread Of Influenza

According to the CDC, vaccination is the most proactive step that you and your family can take toward the prevention of influenza. Since the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from season to season and from person to person, someone in your household may still contract a strain of the influenza virus. Once the virus is in your home, following a few caregiving and housekeeping guidelines will reduce the risk for infecting other family members. 

Protect the Caregiver

If one of your loved ones has contracted the flu, assign one family member to tend to the patient's care. This individual should be someone who has been vaccinated against the virus and who does not fall into one of the higher risk categories, which include the elderly, very young children, pregnant women and those with heart or respiratory conditions. Each time the designated caregiver needs to care for the patient, the following precautions should be practiced:

  • Wear a new pair of disposable gloves.
  • Wear a new disposable surgical mask.
  • The caregiver should avoid touching his or her face.
  • Once the patient is taken care of and cleaning tasks are completed, remove and dispose of the gloves, and then wash hands thoroughly.

Protect the Family

One room should be chosen in which to isolate the sick family member. Set the patient up in this room with everything that he or she will need, and establish a house rule that no one else is to enter that room or interact with the patient for the duration of the illness. Some things to provide the patient within this room should include the following:

  • A box of tissues
  • All medications that the patient will be taking
  • A thermometer for monitoring the patient's body temperature
  • Disposable drinking bottles of water and other fluids
  • A large wastebasket that is lined with a trash bag for disposing of used supplies, such as tissues

If there is more than one bathroom in your home, assign one bathroom to the patient and instruct all other family members to use only the other bathroom.

Route of Transmission

Influenza viruses are released into the environment in two ways. First, when an infected person coughs or sneezes, aerosolized droplets travel as far as six feet away. Secondly, when an infected person touches his or her mouth, nose or eyes, surfaces that they subsequently touch become contaminated with the virus. Influenza germs can survive on objects and surfaces for two to eight hours, and a patient remains contagious for five to seven days after his or her flu symptoms first appear. Instruct the patient to sneeze or cough into a new disposable tissue and not into his or her hand, and the patient should refrain from touching his or her face. The caregiver should wipe down objects and surfaces frequently to kill as many germs as possible.

Cleaning Objects and Surfaces

Use a disinfecting cleaning solution that is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for effectively killing influenza virus A. Alternately, you can mix one-quarter of a cup of chlorine bleach with one gallon of warm water. Remember these potential hot spots when you make the cleaning rounds:

  • Light switches and doorknobs
  • Faucet handles, toilet seat and flusher handles
  • Bathroom vanity and kitchen countertops
  • Surfaces of bedside tables and dressers
  • Remote controls and telephones

To reduce cleaning tasks, serve all of the patient's meals on paper plates and in disposable cups, and provide plastic cutlery. Disposed of these items after each meal.

Cleaning Linens and Textiles

Linens that are used by the patient should be gathered each day to be laundered and then dried on a high heat setting. These items include:

  • Bedding materials
  • Towels and washcloths
  • Clothing

In addition to carrying out the aforementioned care and cleaning tips, remind everyone in your home to wash their hands frequently, eat a nutritionally balanced diet, minimize stress and get plenty of rest to help you and your family stay healthy. 

For further assistance, contact a local medical clinic.