The flu virus is highly contagious. People with the flu can spread it to others six feet away by sneezing, coughing or talking, and the virus can live on hard surfaces for 48 hours. Once a family member has the virus, the illness can spread easily to others. But you can keep your household healthier by following this advice from Lahey Health infection prevention specialists.
“Germs tend to spread more easily in tight spaces and cause colds to hang around your house longer,” said Jane Eyre-Kelly, RN, CIC, Infection Prevention and Control Officer at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “Getting the flu shot is the number one thing you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones, but there are measures you can take when you have someone at home feeling under the weather.”
Eyre-Kelly offers the following tips for a healthier household:
- Give the sick person their own room for sleeping, if possible. Provide them with any items they might need, e.g. tissues, a trash can and bottles of water. Limit the “guest list” and avoid close contact with your sick family member, if possible.
- Wash your hands often. Rub your hands together with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget to wash between your fingers and under your nails. And remember to keep your hands away from your nose, mouth and face.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces or objects such as doorknobs, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, refrigerator door handles, phones and toys with a disinfectant.
- Take care of yourself. Eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise if you can.
- Share food or drinks, cups, utensils or towels with your sick family member. Consider using disposable cups in the bathroom to minimize exposure.
- Share pillows, blankets or towels. Once your family member is better, be sure to wash all of these items that they may have used. Hold all dirty laundry away from your face and body when handling and wash your hands immediately after touching it.
If you’re the one feeling under the weather:
- Wash your hands after you touch your mouth and nose.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
- Finish any medicine that your doctor prescribed.
- Keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick.
- Stay home from work, school and errands until you are well.
- Consider getting a new toothbrush after you feel better.
And what about staying healthier at work and in public?
Hand washing is key, said Nancy Holt, RN, BSN, COHC, Infection Prevention Manager at Winchester Hospital.
“Wash your hands when you arrive at the office. Use a paper towel to open the restroom door. Bring disinfecting wipes and use them to clean keyboards, mouses, phones, counters, work surfaces and doorknobs,” Holt said. “Most importantly, if you haven’t gotten a flu shot, it’s not too late. The flu shot will provide you with a little extra protection to help avoid illness.”
For information on the flu and how to stay healthier, check out our online flu center.