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Caring for the flu: What to do if you or a family member has the flu

Posted November 30, 2015

Experts believe the flu is spread in droplets that can become airborne when people with the flu sneeze, cough or talk.

It can be difficult to know how to react once the flu strikes -- it hits quickly and is highly contagious, putting households at risk of an outbreak if one member becomes ill. Here are some strategies to stop the flu from spreading throughout a home, as well as some treatment options.

How the Flu Spreads and How to Avoid Further Contamination

According to the CDC, the flu can be spread to people up to six feet away. Experts believe the flu is spread in droplets that can become airborne when people with the flu sneeze, cough or talk. Another way the flu is spread is people touching a contaminated surface and then touching their eyes or mouth before disinfecting their hands.

If anyone in the home is ill, keep contact to a minimum and consistently wash your hands with soap and water, or rinse with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. And a good strategy is to use technology; texting on mobile phones or calling from different rooms can reduce contact while communicating. This allows the sick person to interact without putting caretakers at risk of being infected or acting as carriers throughout the house.

The most important prevention tool is staying home. Doctors recommend staying in bed and at home until 24 hours after the fever has broken in order not to carry the virus into public places, therefore potentially contributing to an influenza outbreak. If you or an ill family member must leave the home, wear a facemask and cover coughs and sneezes with tissue.

Treatment and Aid

Since the flu is a virus, antibiotics are useless against it. Fortunately, doctors can prescribe antiviral medicine that can potentially lessen the severity and duration of the virus. Rest is critical to recovery, as it helps the immune system recover, as are healthy fluid intake and heavy doses of sleep.

Seek emergency assistance if the patient has trouble breathing, is unable to eat, has no tears when crying (especially children), or shows any signs of confusion. Otherwise, be prepared for the flu to simply run its course.

This story was written for our sponsor, the N.C. Division of Public Health.

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