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7 Flu-Fighting Strategies for Family Caregivers

More influenza (aka flu) talk. If you are a family caregiver, you can reduce the chances that both you and your loved one will get the dreaded virus. It’s about vigilance and, yes, luck. But regardless, tissues and hand sanitizer need to be your best friends.

Older people can have weakened immune systems, making them susceptible to flu and its complications. Nearly 90 percent of flu deaths and 60 percent of flu hospitalizations happen to those age 65-plus. And if you, the caregiver, get it, who will step in?

Whether you’re in close quarters at work, have an older person live with or visit you, care for an older person in his or her home, or transport someone to medical appointments in your car, there are certain flu-fighting rules of the road. They include getting a flu vaccine, washing hands and disinfecting surfaces frequently, and steering clear (if you can) of someone sick.

A little microbiology 101: People contract the flu from an infected person or germy surface (a door knob, elevator button, or train or bus pole, for instance). Droplets from the sick person coughing, sneezing or talking can travel to your mouth or nose.

Here’s what you need to know (thank you Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  1. Besides getting the flu vaccine, wash your hands and the care recipient’s hands often (after sneezing, handling a tissue, being in close contact with others) with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Act like Lady Macbeth, the compulsive hand washer. No soap? Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; carry a spare in your bag and car.
  2. You’re not necessarily home free if you’ve had a flu shot. This year’s flu vaccine is 62 percent effective. You can get the shot and still come down with the flu. Still, it’s a critical first line of defense.
  3. If you’re the cougher or sneezer, do it into a tissue (not your hand, and if so wash immediately) and throw it out immediately.
  4. Take a hiatus from handshaking and sharing drinks or food. The flu outbreak is so worrisome that the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has asked priests not to share communion wine or touch congregants’ hands or tongue and for worshippers not to shake hands.
  5. If you have the flu or a bad cold, wear a drug store or doctor’s office mask and don’t go out until 24 hours after the fever is gone. If you’re caring for someone sick, ditto.
  6. Keep those hand wipes handy. Whip them out wherever someone with a cold, cough or flu has been – and use them on car door handles, banisters, kitchen counters, house or office doorknobs, or exercise equipment. Also use them at stores that require communal pens for credit card payments, or other public places.
  7. If your parent, spouse or friend is in a health care facility, ask what they’re doing to contain any viral outbreaks.


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Photo by Sunnybrook 100 courtesy of Creative Commons