Checklist for flu care at home

Flu is in the air, perhaps this year more than most. Experts are predicting one of the worst flu seasons in recent years. In addition to the typical viruses that circulate in fall and winter, the world is also tackling the spread of swine flu.

Many families may be required to care for the flu at home. Along with getting the flu shot, the best preventative is frequent hand washing alongside a strategy to build your immunity. Here’s a helpful checklist if you are the caregiver:

— Keep your patient at home for seven days after his or her symptoms begin, or until the person has been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.

— If pre-existing medical conditions are a concern (such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, or pregnancy) check with a health professional in case special attention is required.

— Give your patient clear fluids to drink, such as water, broth, and sports beverages to prevent dehydration.

— To help stop the spread of illness, give your patient a room of his or her own. Choose one that is as far from common areas as possible. A separate bathroom would also be ideal.

— Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and immediately discard away from future contact. If no tissues are handy use a sleeve or an elbow.

— Support the immune system, by ensuring everyone eats healthy and gets enough rest. Some natural supplements work too. It is worth noting that clinical tests of a unique extract of North American ginseng (COLD-FX) show virus-fighting results as high as 89 per cent — and you can now take an effective extra strength version once symptoms appear.

— Be sure everyone washes their hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use paper towels to dry hands, or else assign everyone their own towel.

Be watchful of high fever, forced breathing, delirium and other warning signs for serious medical attention.

In the event of H1N1 virus, the Public Health Agency of Canada also recommends that you protect yourself by having a sick person wear a simple surgical mask when you are in the same room or within 2 metres (6 feet) of him or her. Alternately, if the sick person cannot tolerate a mask, you can wear it instead. (Read more on the appropriate use of masks.)

When to seek medical attention

Most people will begin to feel better after a few days, but be on alert for complications such as asthma or pneumonia. Here are some signs to look for:

— Starts to feel better, but then the fever returns

— Wheezing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, coughing up blood

— Purple or bluish lip color

— Chest pain

— Hard to wake up, unusually quiet or unresponsive, strange thoughts or actions

— New onset of diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal pain

— Signs of dehydration such as dizziness when standing and low urine production

If any of these symptoms occur, call your health care provider for advice.

And last but not least, be sure to monitor yourself and other family members for flu symptoms.

Are your lifestyle choices putting your immune system at risk? To find out, take this quiz at:

Photo © Ana Abejon