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Staying healthy when family members have the flu

Keeping germs contained and your home clean can help prevent transmission

Photo (c) VadimGuzhva - Fotolia
Health officials are warning that this year’s flu season could be worse than previous years, in part due to weaknesses with this year’s batch of vaccines.

Experts also say the fact that Australia had a severe flu season this year suggests we may be in for a harsher-than-usual flu season here in the U.S. Unfortunately, flu season has already gotten off to an early start, which could mean a longer season -- and, in turn, more infected individuals.

Here are some things you can do to stay healthy if you find yourself living under the same roof as someone who has the flu.

Create a sick room

In an interview with ConsumerAffairs, Cindy Weston, assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Nursing, explained that preventing the spread of germs is critical when it comes to keeping everyone else in the house healthy.

“The family member who is ill should stay away from others and stay inside. They need to keep their hands washed,” she said. “They should ‘cover their cough’ and dispose of tissues to help prevent spread.”

Weston adds that family members who aren’t sick should stay well rested, eat well, and give the family member who is ill a private space and quiet area to rest.

Each sick person should have their own drinking glass, washcloth, and towel. Avoid sharing anything with sick family members -- including bathrooms. If you have two bathrooms, designate one to be used only by the sick person.

Protecting yourself

While letting your flu-ridden family member rest and recover, you can tackle a few important cleaning tasks to help prevent the spread of germs.

“Surfaces should be wiped down with diluted bleach water 1:10 ratio,” Weston said. Also be sure to clean bedside tables, doorknobs, and toys (if a child has the flu).

Wash and dry soiled sheets and towels on the “hot” setting and avoid carrying them to the washing machine in your arms -- use a laundry basket instead.

Healthy family members can also take supplements to ward off the illness, Weston noted. Zinc, vitamin C, and echinacea may boost the immune system to help protect against illness.

Once the sick family member is feeling better, be sure to toss his or her toothbrush to avoid reinfection.

Weston added that by the time someone shows symptoms that are clearly a cold or flu, most of the family has already been exposed -- but doing these simple things may limit the exposure and help prevent transmission.

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