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It’s a common problem—one person in your family gets sick and illness quickly spreads to other family members. While it isn’t always possible to avoid getting sick when someone in the house is contagious, there are steps you can take to help you not get sick.
Likewise, there’s much you can do to keep your family well if you are sick.
This article provides tips for you and others in your household to avoid getting sick and when to see a healthcare provider.
If Someone Else Is Sick
To keep yourself healthy when there’s a sick person in your house, limit your exposure to their germs and take good care of yourself.
Wash Your Hands
In addition to all the usual times you should wash your hands—such as after you use the bathroom and before you eat—you should also wash them whenever you touch things that sick family members have touched.
If soap and water are not available and your hands aren’t visibly soiled, use hand sanitizing gel or wipes.
Clean the toys that sick children have been playing with thoroughly and frequently.
Clean hard, plastic toys with hot soapy water and rinse well. If they are dishwasher safe, wash in the dishwasher with a sanitizer or a hot rinse cycle. Clean fabric and plush toys in the washing machine with hot water, and dry them in a clothes dryer on a hot cycle.
Do Not Share Food or Drinks
Avoid sharing food, drinks, as well as cups and eating utensils. Be sure to clean all dishes with hot water and soap after use.
Avoid Touching Your Face
It’s easy for germs to travel from your hands into your eyes, nose, or mouth. Wearing a mask can often help to keep your hands away from your face.
Sleep in Separate Rooms
If your partner or spouse is sick, sleep in separate rooms if possible. If this is not an option, at least try to sleep facing in opposite directions and wash your sheets frequently in hot water. Wearing a face mask while sleeping is another option.
Avoid Close Contact
Avoid kissing, hugging, and shaking hands with anyone who is sick. Colds and many other respiratory infections are spread by droplet transmission. That means that germs live in and are spread through your saliva and nasal secretions, and close contact can bring you into contact with those germs.
Be aware that pretty much anything that is touched by a sick family member, such as the remote control, hand towels, door handles, and car keys could potentially have germs on it. Some types of cold viruses can live on objects for days, so a thorough cleaning of anything that could be shared by family members is essential.
Don’t share toothbrushes, and try not to let your toothbrush come in contact with the sick person’s toothbrush.
Take Care of Yourself
Take care of yourself by eating a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest. It can be hard to do those things when you’re taking care of sick family members, but try to maintain healthy habits as much as possible so your immune system and energy stay strong.
As a preventive measure, get a flu shot every year, especially if you have young kids in the house.
Teach Good Hygiene
Teach your children to follow healthy habits like hand washing and sneezing into their elbow or a tissue. Kids bring all kinds of germs home from school or daycare, then spread them to other family members. Good health habits can help cut down on illness in your household.
If You’re the One Who’s Sick
Most of the above tips apply here as well, but you can do a few extra things to protect others in the household from getting your germs.
Cover Your Mouth
Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the inside of your elbow—not your hands. This will help minimize the chances that you will pass on your germs because flu and cold viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the virus cough, sneeze, talk, or touch objects around the house.
Throw Away Tissues
Throw your dirty tissues away immediately after using them. Leaving dirty tissues around can help spread germs around your house.
Wear a Face Mask
Consider wearing a face mask if you are contagious and must be in close contact with someone, such as a baby or toddler you need to care for.
Try to Isolate
Try to isolate yourself in a small area of your home as much of the time as possible. Minimize time spent with family members and stick to a 6-foot distance when you’re in the same room to avoid germ transmission.
Limit Food Preparation
Try to avoid preparing food for others when you can. If you have to prepare a meal for someone, consider wearing a mask and gloves, and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
Sometimes, even your best efforts won’t prevent an illness from spreading through your family. If cold symptoms seem especially severe or last longer than 10 days, it’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider to make sure the cold hasn’t turned into something more serious.
For the flu, you can talk to your healthcare provider about medications that can shorten the duration.
Although it isn’t always possible to avoid getting sick when someone in the house is contagious, there are steps you can take to reduce the transmission of germs if you or a family member is sick. Keeping hands and objects clean, avoiding close contact, and washing toys, dishware, and towels frequently are just a few ways to decrease the transmission of germs.
If symptoms get worse or take more than 10 days to improve, talk with your healthcare provider to determine if treatment is needed.
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