Try these simple tips to make sure you're ready to care for someone sick with a cold, the flu or COVID-19.
During a typical winter, at least one strain of flu virus is going around, in addition to many cold viruses, and other contagious viral illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus or RSV (which commonly infects children) and norovirus (a stomach bug).
These viruses and COVID-19 share many characteristics and can cause fevers and respiratory symptoms like coughing and sniffling. Read our article, "Cold, flu or COVID-19: Which one is it?" to see how they compare. In any case, don't assume. Testing may be needed to distinguish between COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.
The stress that common colds, the flu and mild cases of COVID-19 put on our bodies makes it challenging to care for ourselves and our families. Follow the tips below now to make your next illness less taxing.
One of the best ways to help keep the flu and COVID-19 away from your home is to ensure all eligible family members get vaccinated. The available vaccines are safe and effective, and also:
- Reduce your overall chances of catching the flu or COVID-19.
- Make it more likely that if you do get the flu or COVID-19, it will be less severe and more manageable.
- Reduce the chances that you'll pass the flu or COVID-19 on to someone more vulnerable to illness.
Contact your primary care provider (PCP) to schedule a flu or COVID-19 vaccine for yourself or your family members. Your PCP can also answer your questions or concerns about each vaccine.
Stock your medicine cabinet
Take time while you're healthy to stock your medicine cabinet. Check for expired medicine and take the proper precautions to dispose of them. Then make a list of new medications to buy, including
- fever and pain relief medicines
- cough medicines.
If you have young children, be sure to purchase medication with the correct dosage for their age and weight. Check to see if any drugs overlap or interact with those you are buying, as well as any prescription medication you may already have at home. Ask your doctor or a pharmacist for help if you're unsure about interactions.
You may also want to buy nasal sprays (decongestant and saline), cough drops and throat lozenges. If you regularly take prescription medications, consider keeping an extra month's supply on hand.
Load up on other health supplies
Along with medicines, think about the other supplies you'll need. Focus on the basics, such as tissues, hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soaps. Buy extra paper towels and cleaning supplies to clean frequently touched surfaces in your home. Have extra masks on hand, as they will be helpful if you cannot easily separate sick family members from those who are not ill.
Make sure you have a good thermometer and fresh batteries. A humidifier may also come in handy. If you already have one at home, is it clean and ready to use?
As mentioned earlier, testing may be needed to differentiate between COVID-19 and other infections. Keep an appropriate amount on hand for your family size in case you need to test multiple times.
Fill your pantry with drinks and comfort foods
When you're sick and don't feel well, you might not have an appetite, or you might feel like you can't keep anything down. But if you're not eating or drinking, dehydration can quickly set in. Dehydration is one of the main reasons people end up in the emergency room when they're sick. It doesn't matter if it's hot or cold – any liquid will help combat dehydration. Try to sip beverages steadily throughout the day. Aim for water, electrolyte or sports drinks, herbal teas or juices. Parents of young children may want to keep a bottle of Pedialyte on hand.
Pick up some favorite foods that store easily and are easy to make and eat. Foods like chicken soup, plain broth, bananas, oatmeal and yogurt are rich in nutrients and easy to eat. Other items to buy include canned soups, canned fruits in their juices, crackers, cheese and applesauce. Other foods like ice pops can feel good on a sore throat.
Line up support
If your babysitter calls in sick, your child is not feeling well or you're feeling ill yourself, you're going to need a backup childcare plan. Ask around now, so you know your options. See if family members can watch the kids or ask a neighbor if they can take the kids to soccer and dance if you're laid up in bed.
When you're hit with the flu, a cold or COVID-19, the last thing you'll want to do is leave your home or go to the store and spread your germs. If you come down with something and do not have chicken soup and tissues, consider using a home delivery service or drive-up service rather than going to a store. This may mean setting up these services with your preferred retailers now, so all you need to do is get on your smartphone and order when the time comes.
Practice healthy habits
Some of the best ways to prepare are following simple, healthy habits like staying well-rested, nourished and not stressed. Science is clear that people who eat a balanced diet, keep stress at bay, exercise regularly and get a good night's sleep are less likely to get sick in the first place.
Preventive measures like frequently washing your hands, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, practicing good cough etiquette and keeping a healthy distance from anyone who isn't feeling well are good practices no matter what.
If you have cold, flu or COVID-19 symptoms and need medical attention, schedule an appointment with your primary care physician.