Keeping Catchy Infections Contained
How to care for someone without getting sick yourself.
By Leanna Skarnulis
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
Are you caring for someone who has a contagious infection? Good luck. Taking precautions to protect yourself at this point can be like closing the barn door after the horse got out.
People are often too late to guard against infection because they were probably exposed to the disease before symptoms appeared. For example, flu can be contagious about a day prior to the onset of symptoms, while strep throat can be contagious as much as five days prior to onset.
Children who are normally healthy are ill about five days each year. Their illnesses are likely to be flu, pink eye, gastroenteritis, and other contagious diseases, which readily spread to other members of the family.
What to Watch Out For
Controlling contagions and getting kids back to school as soon as they were well was the reason the role of school nurse was created more than 100 years ago. "School nurses have been behind vaccinations that have reduced or eliminated diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio," says Wanda Miller, RN, MA, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) in Castle Rock, Colo.
But contagious diseases often confound the best efforts to control them. While adults are urged to get vaccinated for flu, the vaccines aren't always 100% effective. And flu can lead to serious respiratory complications, such as pneumonia.
Now there's concern about a resurgence of whooping cough (pertussis). "Babies are routinely vaccinated, but new evidence shows that vaccine effectiveness wanes after five or 10 years," says Dee-Dee Vallez, RN, MS, NASN continuing education director. "We made a recommendation on adolescent pertussis vaccination in the spring, and the Food and Drug Administration's Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices is currently looking at adult vaccinations."
Basic Prevention Strategies
Prevention begins with basic hygiene:
It seems ironic to say that staying in good health is one of the best ways to keep from getting sick. But it's true, says Miller. "For example, about one-fourth of all kids test positive for strep without being sick themselves. If you're ill with something else and your resistance is down, you could get strep throat. Getting proper rest and good nutrition can help improve resistance."
Advice From a Germ Freak
Allison Janse, author of The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu, shares tips with WebMD on staying well when a spouse or child comes home with a bug. "Be prepared. Stock up on supplies before you need them."
Your arsenal should include:
As soon as someone in your house shows symptoms, keep your distance from their coughs, sneezes, and objects they touch. Janse, who is a freelance writer and trade book editor in South Florida, says: