This is the second installment of a three-part series highlighting the theme of community immunity this flu season. Because preventing the spread of flu starts at home — and extends to the community at large.
This year’s flu season just keeps getting scarier: flu activity surged even higher in late January, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting the aggressive H3N2 influenza virus as widespread throughout the entire continental United States. As of January 27, 2018, the CDC has reported over 50 pediatric flu deaths. That’s 50 too many, friends.
But what is the flu, really? Isn’t it just the sniffles?
Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs) that can cause secondary complications and attack other target organs in the body. It typically spreads when an infected person cough or sneezes, spewing the virus up to six feet through the air (THAT IS TALLER THAN ME!) You can also catch the flu by touching your eyes, nose or mouth after touching a contaminated surface or object. Like the iPad you handed to your kid so they could watch a little bit of YouTube? Or the remote control? Or… Ugh I don’t even want to think about it. GERMS!
So, how do you keep your family safe? Families Fighting Flu encourages everyone 6 months and older in your home to get an annual flu vaccination. This is especially critical for the very young members of your family and elderly grandparents, who are more vulnerable to influenza. Sadly, senior citizens account for at least 71% of deaths linked to influenza, and at least 54% of hospitalizations for flu complications. Due to their weaker immune systems, people age 65+ are more likely to suffer complications from the flu, which is why it’s critical that people in this age group get the annual flu shot. Protect your old people! Also make sure folks with respiratory conditions get their shots and for us, as an Aboriginal family, we always get ours because we are higher risk.
Despite your best efforts, if someone in your family brings home this year’s flu bug, you need a plan.
• Try to give the sick person(s) their own room. More than one sick person can share the same room if needed. High density gross, but it helps contain things.
• If you have more than one bathroom, have sick people use one bathroom and well people use the other one. We don’t, unfortunately. Boo.
• Give each sick person their own drinking glass, washcloth, and towel. And as much space as possible.
Stock the sick room with tissues to cover coughs and sneezes, and toss used tissues into a lidded trash can with a plastic, disposable liner. Have the sick person wear a facemask or cover their nose and mouth with a tissue when they leave the sick room or are around others. Finally, have them wash their hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Keep everyone out of the sick room except for the caregiver.
If that person happens to be you, keep yourself healthy:
• Limit the amount of time in the sick room. Flee when possible.
• Avoid being directly face-to-face with the sick person – if a child, put their chin on your shoulder so they can’t cough in your face. Avoid the germ blast by all means necessary.
• Wash your hands after leaving the sick room. Decontaminate as much as possible.
When possible, open a window in the sick room and use a fan to keep fresh air flowing. Clean the sick room daily, including hard surfaces that may harbor the flu virus, like bedside tables, toys, phones and door knobs. Use normal laundry soap on their dirty laundry and tumble dry on the hot setting. Wash your hands immediately after handling any items the sick person has used. You can also wash the sick person’s dishes with ordinary dish liquid or put them into the dishwasher.
Barring any health complications, your flu patient should be able rejoin the rest of the family 24 hours after the fever ends.
For more information on the flu and what you can do to protect your family, visit www.familiesfightingflu.org.
The third installment in the community immunity series tackles the topic of how to protect yourself at work and out in public during the flu season. Check back with us in a couple of week for part three of the series.