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Cold and flu season lasts from October into May, but illness can strike your household at any time during the year. If you have children, and particularly a larger-than-average family like I do, you probably worry about how to keep one person’s illness from spreading to the entire household.
Please note: This is NOT an article about COVID-19. For recommendations relating to that virus, refer to the CDC’s website for accurate and up-to-date information.
First, I want to remind you that I’m not a doctor. I do have a larger than average household though. When 1 of the 7 of us gets sick, there are a few guidelines we follow to keep the illness from spreading to everyone in the house.
Here are the things that help us stop an illness in it’s tracks and keep the others in our home healthy while the sick one recovers. It boils down to 4 steps of action.
This is the most important of the 4 steps to keep a bug from spreading to everyone. After setting up a good arrangement to effectively quarantine your sick family member away from healthy members of the family, the other steps of “Care,” “Comfort,” and “Combat Boredom” will help you maintain the quarantine.
Designate a “sick” room
At the first sign of potentially contagious illness, figure out where your sick one is going to hunker down. For us, it’s always in that person’s bedroom. In your home, if you have kids that share a bedroom, it might be easier to find a different space for your ill one. If at all possible, though, keep healthy kids away from the sick one. You can even make it fun for the healthy ones and let them camp out on your bedroom floor if need be.
Designate a “sick” bathroom
I know it’s not possible in all homes, but if you can, have the sick person use one bathroom and don’t let anyone else use that bathroom. This is especially helpful in the case of a stomach virus.
If this is not possible, make sure you go in and disinfect the doorknobs, toilet, sink, and countertops after your sickie uses the bathroom.
Disinfect High-Touch Areas
This is a smart idea during cold and flu season even if someone in your house is not sick. In your home, high-touch areas would include handles to kitchen appliances, bathroom and kitchen surfaces, faucet handles, toilet handles, door knobs, remote controls, light switches, cell phones, and keyboards.
If you have little ones, especially babies, toys also fall in this high-touch category. I recommend washing toys with soap and water rather than using chemical disinfectants, because you don’t want dangerous chemicals to end up in your child’s mouth.
Be Mindful of What You Touch
When you are taking foods, drinks or supplies back and forth in to your sick family member and back out to the main area of the house, make sure you are not inadvertently spreading germs around. Make sure dirty dishes go right into the sink or dishwasher. Wash your own hands before touching anything else in the house.
Consult Your Doctor
The first thing you need to do if you have a sick child is call your pediatrician’s office and ask for their advice and recommendations. Your child may need to be seen in the office, or the pediatrician may want you to watch symptoms at home. Only your child’s doctor can guide you on appropriate medical care.
Assuming you have been instructed to keep your child home and treat their symptoms, make sure they have what they need in the room with them so they won’t go wandering the house for something and spread their germs.
Items to Keep in the Sick Person’s Room
- a box of tissues
- trash can
- a bucket if they’re vomiting
- a cell phone, bell, or baby monitor to get your attention if they need something
- glass of water or electrolyte drink to stay hydrated
- a thermometer
Keep Track of Medicine and Fever
Whether the ill person is taking over-the-counter medicine or a prescription, it’s really important to keep track of when doses are given. I usually do this on a piece of paper or on my iPhone’s Notes app. There are also other apps you can get for free that are specifically for tracking medicines and reminding you to take doses.
If you have a little one on an antibiotic or another medicine that requires a certain number of doses per day, there’s a simple trick to help you keep track. As soon as you pick up the prescription, take a Sharpie and draw a basic schedule directly on the bottle of medicine. For example, if your child needs to take a dose 2x/day for 7 days, starting on Monday, I would write this on the side of the bottle:
Each time you give a dose, just make an X next to the day under the dose that you gave. This is really helpful if there’s more than one person caring for the child, and can prevent accidental double doses.
In addition to keeping track of medicine, if the sick person also has a fever, it’s a good idea to keep track of that as well. In case you find yourself trying to report symptoms to a doctor, it’s helpful to have temperature recorded somewhere so you’re not relying on memory.
When someone is not feeling good and stuck in one room away from everyone, you definitely need to make sure they have everything to keep them comfortable and keep symptoms at bay. Here are a few ideas of common things that can help.
- extra pillows to elevate head
- extra blankets for chills
- warm tea or soup to soothe a sore throat
- ginger ale or bubbly water to sip for queasiness
- essential oils to soothe a cough
- hard candy or throat drops for sore throat or cough
- humidifier for respiratory issues
- warm socks for cold feet
This can be the hardest part of keeping someone quarantined in one room of your home while they recuperate. Depending on the age of the person who is sick, there are different things that can help keep them entertained while they recover.
My first rule when someone is sick and quarantined is that the normal screentime rules go out the window. Our kids don’t normally have screen access in their bedrooms, but when they’re sick, we move one in there. A small smart tv or a tv with a Firestick is perfect for any age kid who is convalescing.
The last time I was bedridden with a bad stomach bug and and had my healthy 4 year-old bouncing around home with me, I finally subscribed to Disney+. Check that out if you don’t have it yet, because it has a lot of wholesome classics all in one place. We definitely get our money’s worth even when no one is sick.
For an older child, books are great to have available. Kindle and ebooks are awesome because you don’t have to leave the house to get the next one.
For a younger child, having a selection of board books or picture books for them to look at and for you to read aloud is a great idea.
Other Low-Key Activities
- deck of cards
- pencil and paper for drawing
- word & logic puzzles
- coloring book & crayons or colored pencils
- game and learning phone apps
As of right now, Amazon still seems to have a good stock of most of these types of items, although they are selling out of household staples like toilet paper just as local stores are.
Take care of you, too
It’s easy to get run down when you’re caring for one or more sick family members in your household. Make sure you are staying hydrated, washing your hands, eating healthy food, and getting as much rest as you can to stay healthy.
This is what works for our household when someone gets sick. Do you have different things that you do? If so, comment below and add them!