WASHINGTON -- As we continue to learn about the severity of this year’s flu and how widespread it is, some are asking what they can do if someone at their house has it. If one person is sick, will everyone else in the house get the flu?
“Having the flu in the house doesn't have to be a family affair,” says Jeanne Matthews, PhD, RN, chair of the department of nursing at Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies.
Matthews says some easy steps can reduce the likelihood of illness spreading. She and other Georgetown experts offer some tips on what to do if someone gets sick.
“Teaching the children and adults in your home proper cough etiquette is a good idea--and not just in flu season, as people may be contagious prior to feeling the significant effects of the flu,” Matthews says. “The flu is spread by droplets coughed or sneezed into the air, so learning to cough or sneeze in your sleeve is good protection.”
She says another important tip is isolating the sick patient to reduce transmission.
“Keeping some distance between those who are ill and those who are not may prevent droplets from entering the nose of someone who is well.”
Matthews also advises people to keep their hands away from the nose and eyes. “Wash your hands frequently,” she says, whether you’re ill or not.
Some physicians take prophylactic action when they treat a sick person from a vulnerable household.
“If they have not received the vaccine, we sometimes give medications like Tamiflu to nursing home patients, pregnant moms, or others at great risk to hopefully prevent influenza during an outbreak,” explains Vincent WinklerPrins, MD, a family medicine physician at Georgetown University School of Medicine.
WinklerPrins also recommends giving the sick person a mask to wear.
And while not perfect, most physicians say the number one way to prevent the spread of flu is to get vaccinated.
“It is never too late to get it, as immunity develops quickly in about two weeks,” Matthews says.
Georgetown family medicine physician Kimberly Bullock, MD, notes that it’s still possible to get the flu even if vaccinated, so keep a closer eye on older family members. “The vaccine works less effectively in the elderly, and they get the worst complications.”
To arrange an interview with a Georgetown University Medical Center physician or nurse, please contact Karen Mallet at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Georgetown University Medical Center
Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through MedStar Health). GUMC’s mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing & Health Studies, both nationally ranked; Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute; and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), which accounts for the majority of externally funded research at GUMC including a Clinical Translation and Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. In fiscal year 2010-11, GUMC accounted for 85 percent of the university’s sponsored research funding.