Have a Plan
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us that pandemic flu is certain to affect America, but the big questions are when and how bad will it be. It will be too late to start making plans for pandemic flu or any emergency situation once the crisis has begun. So do it now. Start with a notebook and pen.
Have a family meeting. Talk about the things you might need, what scares you most, and outline action items and responsibilities for each member of the family. Get everyone involved in collecting tips, articles and action plans for the notebook. One AANMA staffer says about her family notebook, “I was surprised to learn I could tap the hot water heater for drinking water if public utilities are cut off. It’s a slim chance that I’ll need to, but I feel good knowing I printed out the instructions on how to drain it just in case!” (You can find these instructions and more in the Red Cross/FEMA publication “Food Water in an Emergency” at www.fema.gov/pdf/library/f&web.pdf
This notebook is also a great place to keep your family health sheets, emergency contact numbers, and anything else you need for health emergencies or natural disasters. Be sure to keep your family notebook in a safe but obvious place.
During a flu pandemic, you could be isolated at home for as long as 6 to 8 weeks, and essentials such as food, water and toilet paper will be in short supply. Stock up now! Make sure you take any food allergies into account when stocking the pantry. Marking allergy-safe foods with a big orange sticker or other marker will make feeding your family safer during quarantine. The American Red Cross offers plenty of tips on food, water and other household needs during a disaster. (Visit www.redcross.org and enter Pandemic Flu in the search bar.) The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also has pandemic flu planning checklists at www.pandemicflu.gov.
Isolate the Virus
When someone in your household gets the flu – particularly pandemic flu – it’s important not to spread the virus to the rest of your family. Follow strict hygiene practices, such as changing clothes after being in the sick room and washing your hands thoroughly every time you touch the sick person or items that were in the sick room. Wear a face mask and goggles (any goggles with a tight fit will work – even swim goggles) around the sick person to avoid breathing in flu-laden droplets or getting them in your eyes.
Clean Up Carefully
Another way to avoid spreading the flu is to be very careful when dealing with items that could have flu germs on them.
- It’s okay to wash the sick person’s clothes and dishes with the rest of the family’s, but use hot water and be sure to wash your own hands after handling germ-laden items.
- Wear disposable gloves when you have to handle used tissues, change diapers, clean up after any “accidents,” or clean bathrooms and other areas used by the sick person.
- Disinfecting is important, but you don’t want to send a family member with asthma into bronchospasms. Clean when sensitive family members are out of the room and air out the house if you can. If the person with the flu has asthma, wait until his flu symptoms are gone, then send him out of his room so you can wipe it down. You can disinfect bathrooms or other parts of the house while he’s in his bedroom. If products with bleach or other disinfectants cause breathing problems for your family, use vinegar, baking soda and water or other nontoxic cleaners.
- Clean as you go for immediate messes and do an overall disinfecting cleanup after the person with the flu is better.
- Germs can live in respiratory equipment too. Clean and disinfect nebulizers regularly and clean holding chambers and the mouthpiece of each inhaler – following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Over-the-counter (OTC) cold and flu products often contain multiple medications to deal with multiple symptoms. Read labels carefully to avoid giving family members medications they don’t need or giving them too much of one type of medication. Talk to your doctor about which OTC products you should keep on hand for pandemic flu, especially if someone in your family has asthma or allergies.
Be sure family members with asthma have written management plans that include what to do for flu, such as changes in medications.
Keep Quarantine Fun!
When someone in your family has seasonal flu or pandemic flu, it’s important to minimize his or her contact with other family members to prevent spreading the disease. But you can do this without making the patient feel like you’re punishing him for being sick.
Fill a sick-day basket with special and thoughtful items your family enjoys. Kids’ items could include craft projects, puzzles, Lego® kits, paper dolls and coloring books. Anyone who’s sick might enjoy movies or their favorite CDs and special pajamas. Build a pillow fort or erect a makeshift tent in your child’s room to make quarantine time comforting. Just be sure to wash everything thoroughly after the child is no longer contagious.
Pandemic flu watchers tell us that household incomes could be affected if you or a family member is sick with pandemic flu or you can’t work because schools are closed. Consider setting aside money in an emergency fund to cover expenses such as co-pays for medications and doctor’s visits as well as payments for rent or mortgage.
Caregiver Supply Kit
- Your family’s asthma and allergy management plans.
- Each family member’s asthma and allergy medications (including auto-injectable epinephrine for anaphylaxis).
- Digital thermometer with plastic protective sleeves (use a new sleeve each time you take someone’s temperature).
- Disposable gloves (latex-free if anyone in your family has latex allergy).
- Pain relievers and fever reducers
- Bleach and Lysol® disinfectant.
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Paper towels.
- Facial tissues.
- N95 face masks for every member of the family. Try them on now to be sure they will fit snugly on everyone’s faces.
- Symptom diary. Keep a few small notebooks and pens in your supply kit and log the date and time of symptoms and medications given (including dosage).
- Cash (banks could be closed and bank ATMs out of cash).
First published: The MA Report, January 2007
Updated: February 2009