Swine Flu (Swine Influenza A (H1N1)): Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home
- What are the symptoms of swine flu?
- How does the swine flu spread?
- What are medications that can help lessen the symptoms of the swine flu?
- When should I seek emergency medical care for swine flu?
- What steps can I take to lessen the swine flu in my home?
- Will facemasks or respirators help protect me from getting the swine flu?
- How can prevent infection by cleaning my home, doing laundry, and disposing of waste?
What are the symptoms of swine flu?
Swine influenza A virus infection (swine flu) can cause a wide range of symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. People with swine flu also can have vomiting and diarrhea. Like seasonal flu, swine flu in humans can vary in severity from mild to severe. Severe disease with pneumonia, respiratory failure and even death is possible with swine flu infection. Certain groups might be more likely to develop a severe illness from swine flu infection, such as persons with chronic medical conditions. Sometimes bacterial infections may occur at the same time as or after infection with influenza viruses and lead to pneumonias, ear infections, or sinus infections.
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The following information can help you provide safer care at home for sick persons during a flu pandemic.
How Swine Flu Spreads
The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else's mouth or nose) before washing their hands.
People with swine flu who are cared for at home should:
- check with their health care provider about any
special care they might need if they are pregnant or have a health condition
such as diabetes,
- check with their health care provider about whether they should take
- stay home for 7 days after the start of illness and fever is gone
- get plenty of rest
- drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports
beverages for infants) to keep from being dehydrated
- cover coughs and sneezes. Clean hands with soap and water or an
alcohol-based hand rub often and especially after using tissues and after
coughing or sneezing into hands.
- avoid close contact with others – do not go to work or school while ill
- be watchful for emergency warning signs (see below) that might indicate you need to seek medical attention
Medications to Help Lessen Symptoms of the Flu
Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist for correct, safe use of medications
Antiviral medications can sometimes help lessen influenza symptoms, but require a prescription. Most people do not need these antiviral drugs to fully recover from the flu. However, persons at higher risk for severe flu complications, or those with severe flu illness who require hospitalization, might benefit from antiviral medications. Antiviral medications are available for persons 1 year of age and older. Ask your healthcare provider whether you need antiviral medication.
Influenza infections can lead to or occur with bacterial infections. Therefore, some people will also need to take antibiotics. More severe or prolonged illness or illness that seems to get better, but then gets worse again may be an indication that a person has a bacterial infection. Check with your healthcare provider if you have concerns.
- Check ingredient labels on
and flu medications to see if they contain aspirin.
- Teenagers with the flu can take medicines without
aspirin, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and
ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®), to relieve
- Children younger than 2 years of age should not be given over-the-counter
cold medications without first speaking with a healthcare provider.
- The safest care for flu symptoms in children younger than 2 years of age is
using a cool-mist humidifier and a suction bulb to help clear away
- Fevers and aches can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Examples of these kinds of medications include:
|Generic Name||Brand Name(s)|
|Ibuprofen||Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®|
- Over-the-counter cold and flu medications used according to the package
instructions may help lessen some symptoms such as cough and
Importantly, these medications will not lessen how infectious a person is.
- Check the ingredients on the package label to see if the medication already contains acetaminophen or ibuprofen before taking additional doses of these medications—don't double dose! Patients with kidney disease or stomach problems should check with their health care provider before taking any NSAIDS.
Quick GuideCommon Respiratory Illnesses
Check with your health care provider or pharmacist if you are taking other over-the-counter or prescription medications not related to the flu.
When to Seek Emergency Medical Care
Get medical care right away if the sick person at home:
- has difficulty breathing or
- has purple or blue discoloration of the
- is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down
- has signs of dehydration such as
dizziness when standing, absence of
urination, or in infants, a lack of tears when they cry
- has seizures (for example, uncontrolled convulsions)
- is less responsive than normal or becomes confused
Steps to Lessen the Spread of Flu in the Home
When providing care to a household member who is sick with influenza, the most important ways to protect yourself and others who are not sick are to:
- keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible (see
"placement of the sick person at home")
- remind the sick person to cover their coughs, and clean their hands with
soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often, especially after coughing
- have everyone in the household clean their hands often, using soap and
water or an alcohol-based hand rub
- ask your healthcare provide if household contacts of the sick person, particularly those contacts that may have chronic health conditions, should take antiviral medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®) to prevent the flu.
Placement of the sick person
- Keep the sick person in a room separate from the common areas of the house.
(For example, a spare bedroom with its own bathroom, if that's possible.) Keep
the sickroom door closed.
- Unless necessary for medical care, persons with the
flu should not leave the home when they have a fever or during the time that
they are most likely to spread their infection to others (7 days after onset of symptoms in adults, and
10 days after onset of symptoms in children).
- If persons with the flu need to leave the home (for example, for medical
care), they should cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and wear
a loose-fitting (surgical) mask if available.
- Have the sick person wear a surgical mask if they need to be in a common
area of the house near other persons.
- If possible, sick persons should use a separate bathroom. This bathroom should be cleaned daily with household disinfectant (see below).
Protect other persons in the home
- The sick person should not have visitors other than caregivers. A phone
call is safer than a visit.
- If possible, have only one adult in the home take care of the sick person.
- Avoid having pregnant women care for the sick person.
(Pregnant women are at increased risk of influenza-related complications and
immunity can be suppressed during
- All persons in the household should clean their hands with soap and water
or an alcohol-based hand rub frequently, including after every contact with the
sick person or the person's room or bathroom.
- Use paper towels for drying hands after hand washing or dedicate cloth
towels to each person in the household. For example, have different colored
towels for each person.
- If possible, consideration should be given to
maintaining good ventilation
in shared household areas (e.g., keeping windows open in restrooms, kitchen,
- Antivirals can be used to prevent the flu, so check with your healthcare provider to see if some persons in the home should use antiviral medications.
If you are the caregiver
- Avoid being face-to-face with the sick person.
- When holding small children who are sick, place their
chin on your shoulder
so that they will not cough in your face.
- Clean your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub after
you touch the sick person or handle used tissues, or laundry.
- Caregivers might catch flu from the person they are caring for and then the
caregiver might be able to spread the flu to others before the caregiver shows
symptoms. Therefore, the caregiver should wear a mask when they leave their home
to keep from spreading flu to others in case they are in the early stages of
- Talk to your health care provider about taking antiviral medication to
prevent the caregiver from getting the flu.
- Monitor yourself and household members for flu symptoms and contact a telephone hotline or health care provider if symptoms occur.
Using Facemasks or Respirators
- Avoid close contact (less than about 6 feet away) with the sick person as
much as possible.
- If you must have close contact with the sick person
(for example, hold a sick infant), spend the least amount of time possible in close contact and try
to wear a facemask (for example, surgical mask) or N95 disposable respirator.
- An N95 respirator that fits snugly on your face can filter out small
particles that can be inhaled around the edges of a facemask, but compared
with a facemask it is harder to breathe through an N95 mask for long periods
- Facemasks and respirators may be purchased at a
pharmacy, building supply
or hardware store.
- Wear an N95 respirator if you help a sick person with respiratory
treatments using a nebulizer or inhaler, as directed by their doctor.
Respiratory treatments should be performed in a separate room away from common
areas of the house when at all possible.
- Used facemasks and N95 respirators should be taken off and placed
immediately in the regular trash so they don't touch anything else.
- Avoid re-using disposable facemasks and N95 respirators if possible. If a
reusable fabric facemask is used, it should be laundered with normal laundry
detergent and tumble-dried in a hot dryer.
- After you take off a facemask or N95 respirator, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Quick GuideCommon Respiratory Illnesses
Household Cleaning, Laundry, and Waste Disposal
- Throw away tissues and other disposable items used by the sick person in
the trash. Wash your hands after touching used tissues and similar waste.
- Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and
toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant
according to directions on the product label.
- Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not
need to be cleaned separately, but importantly these items should not be shared
without washing thoroughly first.
- Wash linens (such as bed sheets and towels) by using household laundry soap
and tumble dry on a hot setting. Avoid "hugging" laundry prior to washing it to
prevent contaminating yourself. Clean your hands with soap and water or
alcohol-based hand rub right after handling dirty laundry.
- Eating utensils should be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control; "Interim Guidance for Swine influenza A (H1N1): Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home."
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