How to care for someone with H1N1

During an infectious disease outbreak or pandemic, hospitals can quickly become overwhelmed with patients, many of whom could probably be cared for in their home. It is possible that you may be called upon to take care of a member of your family who becomes ill.

Like other types of flu, swine influenza (or influenza A (H1N1)) spreads from person to person via droplets of fluid that become airborne when a person coughs or sneezes. The virus may also fall on surfaces – doorknobs, cupboard handles, keyboards – and live for a period of time (some viruses and bacteria can live more than 2 hours), possibly infecting others who touch them and then touch their own nose, mouth, or eyes. That is why it is vital that home caregivers understand and follow hygiene and safety guidelines.

If someone in your home becomes ill, they will need to stay home for at least 7 days after onset of illness and after fever has gone down. Choose one person to be the primary caregiver to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others.

As a caregiver, you will need to consider these home-care basics:

  • Get a doctor's advice. If someone shows flu symptoms, it's important for them to stay at home. But you will also need to ask a doctor a few home-care questions: Will this person need an antiviral medication? Will I and my other family members need to take any medication? Are there any special considerations for the sick person's pre-existing condition? Are there medications that children can or cannot take?
  • Become a hygiene expert. The simple act of hand-washing significantly cuts the risk of viral transmission. All members of the household should wash their hands often using soap and water for at least 15 seconds. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used. Use paper towels to dry hands, or else assign everyone their own towel. Within the home, too, you will need to be diligent about cleaning and disinfecting areas in which the sick person stays. Take caution when handling laundry, and tumble-dry clothing and linens in a hot dryer. Wash your hands immediately after.
  • Give a sick person their space. Keep the sick person in a room of their own. Choose a room that is as far from common areas as possible, and keep the door closed. A separate bathroom would be best, too. No visitors allowed, either, though providing the sick person with a phone or computer could help ease feelings of isolation and loneliness. Should the sick person need to be in common areas or travel outside of the home for medical care, they should wear a properly-fitted, government-approved mask or respirator or cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Be medication smart. Follow any instructions from your doctor or pharmacist. Read medication labels carefully. Don't give children or teenagers acetylsalicylic acid (also called ASA or Aspirin®) for pain. Opt instead for medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Fever and pain may respond to either type of medication. Speak to your health care provider before giving over-the-counter cough and cold medications to any child under the age of 6, and always follow the directions of how to give the medication as stated by your health care provider or as written on the medication box.
  • Take care of yourself. When caring for a sick person, wear a properly-fitted, government-approved face mask or respirator. Avoid face-to-face contact with the person as much as possible. If caring for a small child, hold them as little as possible. To hold them safely, place their chin on your shoulder so any coughs or sneezes will move away from you. And, naturally, strictly follow the described hygiene guidelines.
  • Use masks safely. For facemasks and respirators to be effective, they must be used properly. Masks should be fitted to the nose and mouth without gapping. Do not reuse disposable facemasks. Launder and tumble-dry reusable masks. Whenever you remove a facemask or respirator, wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Remind the sick person of hygienic habits. A sick person may have a hard time staying on top of hygiene. As a care-giver you can give gentle reminders:
    • Cover coughs and sneezes.
    • Wash hands thoroughly in soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Throw used tissues away into a trash can lined with a disposable plastic bag.
    • Get plenty of rest and drink lots of clear fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Know the signs of emergency. Understand the red-flag warnings that illness has become serious enough to need emergency medical care. In swine flu, watch out for breathing difficulty, chest pain, vomiting, dehydration, seizures, confusion or unresponsiveness, or a discolouration of the lips.

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