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Karen Cassidy: Tips for caring for flu patients

Karen Cassidy • Updated Feb 13, 2018 at 2:00 PM

The flu virus can live up to 24 hours on surfaces like doorknobs and tables, so it’s best to keep a sick family member in a separate room, and, if possible, use a separate bathroom. 

It’s also ideal if only one person takes care of someone who is ill with all other family members staying out of the sick room. Even little things like keeping the sick family member’s toothbrush away from everyone else’s can make a big difference. A toothbrush is a breeding ground for germs, so be sure and get a new one for your family member when they have recovered. 

Also dispose of the sick family member’s used tissues in a lined trashcan, which can help contain the germs.

Be sure and wash your hands before and after caring for a sick person. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds while washing all parts of your hand, including the backs, between your fingers and under your nails. Use hand sanitizer when a sink is not readily available. 

To keep germs at bay, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth or biting your nails. The main way a virus enters your system is through oral and nasal passages, so be aware of any bad habits you may have. Remember to sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hands or cover your mouth or nose with a tissue. A sneeze ejects 100,000 viral particles into the air that can travel 200 feet.

Sanitize all surfaces that a sick family member may have touched. Places like the bathroom faucet, doorknobs, refrigerator doors, children’s toys, laptops, television remotes and phones can all spread germs. Heat above 167 degrees will kill flu viruses, as well as common household cleaning products that contain chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, detergents, iodine-based antiseptics and alcohol. For surfaces you can’t wipe down like sheets, clothes and blankets, be sure to wash them often and dry on the highest heat setting.

It’s not too late to protect yourself and your family by getting the flu vaccine. Flu activity continues to increase throughout the U.S. and experts aren’t yet sure when flu season will peak. It could last as late as May, so getting the flu shot is still beneficial. 

Although you can contract the flu even when you’ve had a flu shot, immunization can reduce the symptoms and prevent flu-related hospitalizations. The vaccine also can lower the risk of flu-associated deaths, especially in children and the elderly. 

Even if the vaccine isn’t a perfect match with the current year’s strain of the flu virus, it still offers protection. 

Make the commitment for you and your family to get the flu shot every year. Yearly flu vaccination is the best way to prevent illness, and individuals who get annual vaccination have increased protection.

Dr. Karen Cassidy is UnitedHealthcare of Tennessee’s senior medical director.

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