Preventing a Swine Flu epidemic–from within your family

Sick It can be really scary if one of your kids comes home with symptoms of the flu. How are you going to keep it from spreading to your other family members? Following are some unofficial (but logical and practical) ideas you might consider:

Know the signs and symptoms of the Swine Flu (H1N1)–Visit the CDC's website for the latest information. As fever is one of the hallmark symptoms, be prepared to monitor a person who's temperature is above normal. Keep the sick family member home from school or work until the fever is gone! The fever is your sign that the virus is still active–and if it's active, the virus can be transmitted. This is one time when you want to discourage "sharing"–it won't help the sick family member or his/her classmates or the workplace gang.

Isolate the family member as much as possible. Keep your healthy family members away from exposure to the higher concentrations of viruses likely to be in the "sick room" When people want to visit, go outside to avoid healthy folks' exposure to the potentially higher concentrations of virus in the sick-room. Infected family members should either eat meals in their rooms or have a family gathering outdoors –bundle up (if necessary) and socialize in the wide-open air, like a picnic or barbeque.

Frequently air out the sick person's room–open a window and dispel the inside air to outside. . This can reduce the concentration of air-borne viruses in the "sick room", making it less likely that you will be exposed to a b'zillion air-borne virus droplets when you go into the room to attend to your sick family member.

Help the sick person avoid stress, guilt or boredom. Make sure the sick member has lots to do –books, magazines, coloring books, computer, TV, etc. but avoid tiring active play. Get him/her involved in nutrition planning–make sure there are lots of fruits and veggies available. And, remind him/her that this will pass and the most important thing is to take care of his/her body while it is fighting the virus.

Keep it cleanРviruses can live for a little while on moist surfaces. So, don't share towels/washcloths with the sick family member. Make up a specific load of the sick person's clothing, bedding and towels in the laundry…and make sure you've dried them thoroughly before putting them away. Open the washer lid and let it dry between laundry loads.

Got a Shared bathroom? Create wipe-down habits in addition to promoting careful hand washing. Although anti-bacterial wipes won't necessarily "kill" viruses, it makes sense to practice a wipe-down procedure, just in case. After toilet use, wipe down the flush lever and seat–let 'em air-dry.

After the sick person has used the sink, wipe down the sink, faucet and faucet handles and the counter top–let 'em air dry before someone else uses them. Talk to everyone in the family so they know why you're being so picky–it's to prevent transferring the virus from one person to another. Make sure they are pro-active as well to keep themselves flu-free by noticing their own hygiene procedures–especially in areas where contamination is likely.

Discuss and promote a Coughing/Sneezing protocol to prevent aerosol dispersal or hand contamination. Kids have been instructed at school to cough/sneeze into their "elbow". Why? The cloth in the sleeve absorbs the droplets–and it's unlikely kids are in "one-kid's-elbow-to-another-kid's-mouth" contact. Remind kids that the old "cover-your-mouth-with-your-hand" is a no-no–It makes it easy to spread the virus in hand-to-hand contact and hand-to-mouth contact or hand-to-nose contact.

Disposable Masks can't hurt–for the infected person. The actual effectiveness may be less important than the reinforced notion of contagion–the mask reminds the sick kids that the most likely method the virus will their bodies is via escaping mouth fluids and breathing vapors. So "capture" the viruses in the mask to prevent the spread. And, if you let him/her draw faces on the masks a child is less likely to feel like "Typhoid Mary"–it'll feel more like Halloween.

About "masking up"– According to the CDC, caregivers (or person's who aren't sick) don't need to mask-up. The mask is intended to contain the source of the virus transmission–the person who has the virus. BUT, if you are caring for a sick kid and your own health is compromised (lung or sinus vulnerability, chronic heart disease, etc), an extra layer of protection can't hurt.

There has been a lot of hype about the Swine Flu and the threat of an epidemic. But, there hasn't been much information about how to deal with your family if one of the members brings it home. The suggestions in this article are not widely promoted in the media or by medical experts, but they reflect a "common sense" approach to keeping your family healthy if you understand the way viruses behave. Try those methods you can, don't do what you can't–but remember how the viruses get us and avoid the transmission methods as much as you can.

Learning happens everywhere–when we notice and take advantage of the events in our lives. The trick is to use science to guide your health to stay well and keeping your family healthy. 

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