- Just because your spouse has the flu doesn’t mean you’ll inevitably get sick.
- It’s hard to contain germs if you’re sharing an enclosed space, but wearing a mask or staying at least six feet away from your sick loved one for a few days can help.
- To keep yourself healthy, manage your stress, keep everything clean, and get lots of rest.
When the flu hits home and your partner or roommate becomes a flu-shedding germ-bag, many people resign themselves to getting sick.
Although flu viruses are extremely contagious and tough to contain, there are a few simple ways you can reduce your risk of getting hit – even while caring for an ill friend or loved one. We’ve rounded up some of the easiest things you can do to prevent yourself from catching a case of the flu at home.
Here are nine ways to minimize your risk.
If you’ve gotten your shot, you’ll be in better flu-fighting shape.
- Reuters/Mariana Bazo
The flu vaccine may not be as effective as usual this year, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth getting.
In addition to preventing more than one in three cases of the flu, it can also boost your immunity and make your case of the flu a milder one if you do get it.
Flu season can last into May, so if you haven’t gotten your shot yet, and you don’t feel sick right now, it’s not too late.
Be especially cautious for the first two to three days, and stay six feet away from the germy person during that time.
People are much more likely to get infected with the flu from being around other sick people than they are from touching virus-laden surfaces.
Person-to-person transmission of the flu can happen when an infected person is talking, coughing, sneezing, or even just breathing near someone else. The virus can be transmitted through the air to anyone within six feet, so the easiest way to avoid getting sick is to keep your distance.
A 2008 study in Hong Kong found that most “viral shedding” – when you’re really passing the germs around – happens in the first two or three days after a person gets sick with the flu. Day 2 tends to be the worst, but that can vary.
Once a person has been fever-free without the help of drugs for a full 24 hours, that’s an indicator that they’re ready to re-enter the world, and won’t share their flu with you, either.
Consider wearing some protection.
If you live in a crowded household, it’s best to assign a single person to care for the sicko and keep everyone else far away.
The care-giver may want to wear a mask and disposable gloves when they visit their “patient” to avoid breathing in or picking up any flu particles.
The virus lasts for about 15 minutes inside of a tissue, and on hard surfaces for a full day.
Disinfect surfaces often.
- Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
When the flu is around, soap and water will wipe away some germs and lower their numbers, but that’s not enough.
To annihilate and kill the germs, you’ll need a good disinfectant. If you don’t have a household product that’s up to the task, you can make your own solution by mixing 1/4 cup of household bleach and a gallon of water.
Avoid touching your face with your hands.
- Noah Buscher / Unsplash
“If you handle things the germs land on and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, the flu virus can easily enter your body,” the New York State Health Department points out.
That’s why it’s especially important to practice good hand washing. If you don’t have regular access to a germ-free sink with warm water and soap, then alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be a good backup defense to keep your hands clean.
Don’t share towels with a sick person.
Remember to wash your hands after touching the sick person’s laundry, dishes, or devices.
But when you’re drying those hands, don’t use the same towel that the sick person in your house has been touching.
You might even want to use more disposable paper towels than you normally would to avoid swapping germs.
Give the sick person their own quarantined “stash” of stuff.
A sick person can shed germs onto anything they touch, including computer keyboards, phones, remote controls, pens, and pencils.
Have them stick to separate dishes and glasses, and try to quarantine their space as much as possible. That way, you’ll be less likely to come in contact with the virus.
Keep your own immune system humming along by getting plenty of rest and enjoying your usual activities.
Getting enough sleep is always important, but it’s especially crucial to aim for eight hours of quality shut-eye each night when someone at home is sick.
Experts at the Mayo Clinic point out that when we sleep, our immune system releases illness-busting cytokine proteins, which help fight infection and inflammation.
Try to avoid getting stressed or angry.
Stress – even when it’s about the possibility of getting sick or the challenge of caring for a sick partner – can really do a number on the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness.
Stress can also impact your sleep, which is necessary for a strong immune response.
Accept that some of your risk is simply out of your control.
- Flickr / Allan Foster
Your immune response to a flu virus stems from a combination of the viruses you’ve caught in the past, the house you grew up in, and your genes. A 2016 study in the journal Nature Immunology found that our immune systems are largely shaped by our age and the environments we’ve lived in. Because of that, some people won’t be susceptible their partner’s flu at all, and others will. You can’t change your past.
It’s also worth remembering that if your partner, child, parent, or roommate is already showing some common symptoms of the flu – like fever, chills, congestion, fatigue, or cough – it may be too late to protect yourself. Scientists say influenza can incubate in the body for one to four days before a person shows any signs of harboring the virus.
That means your partner can be contagious and not know they’re spreading the illness yet, as the CDC points out.
The best thing to do is keep exercising, sleeping, seeing your friends, and eating healthy food, which are all activities that will help your immune system stay strong.
Hopefully your “other half” will be able to join you in those activities again soon, in good health. The flu typically lasts about five to seven days.