Sick at home with COVID-19: How to care for your loved ones infected with coronavirus – USA TODAY

Posted: March 23, 2020 at 11:47 am

Coronavirus cases continue to surge throughout the United States and experts say some portions of the country are beyond containment.

The wide-spread virus has a high person-to-person transmission rate and is beginning to seriously affect younger adults, not just older generations.

According to a reportby the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tracked the first 2,500 cases in the U.S., nearly 40% of COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized were between the ages of 20 and 54.

Those who are infected and dont require hospitalization are instructed to stay home, but that still leaves families androommates vulnerable.

So, what can one do to keep loved ones safe while recovering at home from COVID-19? And what can caregivers do to stay healthy?

Dr. Raphael Viscidi, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said respiratory viruses are commonly transmitted between people with the closest and prolonged contact.

Reports that are coming out of China suggest that many, if not most, of (coronavirus)transmissions are coming from family units, he said.

The goal is to reduce social contact, the duration of contact and the environmental space shared with a sick person on a day-to-day basis.

That starts in the bedroom.

Its a very small shared environment with a high probability the virus is present, Viscidi said. The bed itself is a surface where a sick person is depositing the coronavirus with just a cough or sneeze.

Harvard Medical School recommends caregivers use aseparate bedroom while the infected person issick. Viscidi said the recommended self-quarantine time is at least 14 days.

In addition to their own bedroom, Harvard is also recommending the sick person have their own designated bathroom so no one else in the house is exposed to contaminated surfaces.

You spend time in the bathroom, Viscidi said. Theyre trying to identify places where someone whos sick is more likely to be spreading the virus.

Bathrooms have surfaces touched on a daily basis, such as faucets, doorknobs, toilets and sink counters. Theyre also relatively small, increasing the risk ofexposure.

When a person is sick with coronavirus, they release the virus into the environment through coughing or just breathing.

The virus may remain infectious in the air for hours. A study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found viable virus could be detected in the air for up to three hours.

Were not by any way saying there is aerosolized transmission of the virus but this work shows the virus stays viable for long periods in certainconditions, so its theoretically possible, study leader Neeltje van Doremalen at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told the Associated Press.

The virus is transmitted through droplets that fallquickly and can exist on surfaces as well, perhaps for as long as three days depending on conditions. Although, Viscidi noted that transmitting the virus through a surface is very low unless an individual is constantly touching the surface for a long time.

In order to minimize that risk, the CDCrecommends having good airflow or ventilationin the form ofair conditioning or a simple open window.

Dr. Joseph Khabbaza, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Cleveland Clinic, said all standard rules apply when it comes to food preparation.

Washing hands and disinfecting kitchen surfaces are common practices in the kitchen, even if no one is sick in the house.

The frequent cleaning of surfaces is really the key in those settings, he said.

Khabbaza also said its important to maintain the recommended distance of six feet away from a person in all rooms but especially in the kitchen.

There are a number of ways to serve an infected person food, Khabbaza said. It can be left by the door to be retrievedor leftin the kitchen for the sick person to comeout and eat.

Caregivers can enter theroom as long as the patient is wearing a mask. The caregiver alsocouldwear a mask if more are available.

Although there is no specific diet for coronavirus patients, Khabbaza said they may not have an appetite and may only want soup or crackers.

Harvard Medical School advises family members not to share household items such as dishes, drinking glasses, cups or eating utensils with the sick. After use, they should be washed thoroughly.

Keeping the sick person's bedroom and bathroom door closed can provide an extra layer of precaution.

Its an extra physical barrier that no droplets are leaving that space, Khabbaza.

However, he points out its not likely a particle is able to travel far, surviveoutside the bodyand infect a healthy person.

Wiping surfaces, frequenthand-washing and avoiding the face are more crucial to minimize transmission of the virus even in settings that arent contained.

Limiting contact is the name of the game, and in our modern world, its become much easier with the use of technology.

Family members can limit contact by using computers, cellphones and tablets to message and call loved ones while they are sealed safely inside their designated bedrooms.

Khabbaza stresses the importance of comforting sick people in their time of need.

Its almost impossible not to feel that anxiety just with this climate and environment, he said. Theres a big benefit of minimizing that anxiety, making sure that youre relaxed around your loved one is important.

Hesuggested using FaceTime or Skype to communicate with people who are sick instead of just messages and calls.

Thats one way you can have lots of conversation and laugh together and see each other smile while still being at very low risk of transmission, Khabbaza said.

The CDC and Harvard Medical School advise caretakers to place all used disposable gloves, facemasks and other contaminated items in a lined container before disposing of them with other household waste.

While Viscidi said its not necessary to double-bag garbage, Khabbaza said extra bags couldnt hurt and its never a bad idea to use gloves while handling waste.

Tissues shouldnt be harmful after theyve already made it to the bottom of a wastebasket.

"Particles and droplets shouldnt just be aerosolized as a tissue in the wastebasket," he said."Once it'sin there, it won't go anywhere."

However,he said it could behelpful if the sick person tiesup the garbage bag before the caregiver comes in and takes it out. This could minimize anxiety when entering the room.

"Youwon't be able to take care of your lovedone as well if your nerves are taking over," he said.

Although there havent been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick, the CDC recommends restricting contact with them while sick with COVID-19 until more is known about the virus. This includes petting, snuggling, being kissed or lickedand sharing food.

If possible, have another person in the house whos not sick to care for the animals. If thats not possible, make sure the sick person washes their hands before and after interacting with pets and wear a face mask.

Viscidi said limiting pet interaction benefits people in the house more than the pet itself.

If youre having severe symptoms and youre petting them constantly, theres going to be some virus on the dog, he said. And then somebody else comes by and pets the dog.

The dog isnt going to get infected, but it can act like a contaminatedsurface for other people to get sick.

As many public health experts have reiterated, the key to keeping people healthy is hygiene.

The CDC defines cleaning as the removal of germs, dirt and impurities of surfaces, and defines disinfecting as using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. The agency recommends disinfecting surfaces after cleaning to further lower the risk of spreading infection.

The CDC recommends taking the following precautions when disinfecting the house while a family member is sick with COVID-19:

Be aware that there can be contaminated residue on used tissues, masks and gloves from someone sick with the coronavirus that can be dangerous to others that live in the home. Here are some ways to correctly dispose of the contaminated items.

SOURCE USA TODAY reporting; Stanford University; World Health Organization; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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