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Sleeping With the Enemy: How to Avoid Getting the Flu from Your Spouse

Flu season is back with a vengeance. But, as a busy adult taking care of your family, working, and generally trying to keep it together, the flu is one thing you definitely don’t have time for.

Unfortunately, the flu is very contagious, easily passed from person to person. If a person with the flu who lives outside your household keeps their distance, you can probably avoid contact with them, especially if you’re good about handwashing. However, when your spouse or another family member gets the flu, that can put you at significant risk for getting it yourself.

So, what do you do when the flu makes an appearance in your home — and in your bedroom?

Here are 8 things you can to do to avoid getting the flu from your spouse.

1. Get. Your. Flu. Shot.

It’s true — the flu shot can take up to 2 weeks to fully kick in, so it may not rescue you this time around. But it can definitely keep you from getting the flu for the rest of the year’s flu season (Fall and Winter, usually peaking in December and February). And if you’ve been watching your spouse struggle with the flu, you probably know that it’s something you really don’t ever want to catch.

If you have gotten your flu shot, you still need to be careful. While very effective, the flu vaccine does not provide 100% protection.

> Get a flu shot now.
> Learn more about when and where you can get the flu shot at our flu clinics.

2. Clean, Then Clean Some More

The flu virus can stay “alive” (a.k.a. contagious) for up to 48 hours. Everything your loved one touches needs to be cleaned until it’s shiny enough for you to see yourself in it. Routinely cleaning surfaces throughout the house can ensure that you catch the germs on your washcloth, not in your body.

In addition to using a household cleaner, add an extra level of protection by also using a disinfectant. Look for a label indicating that the disinfectant kills the influenza virus. If it doesn’t, you can mix ¼ cup chlorine bleach and a gallon of hot water to create your own disinfectant.

Cleaning also means washing your hands, pretty much all the time. Good handwashing is always important, but it’s especially important when you’re already at risk for getting the flu.

Every time you leave the same room as your sick spouse, touch anything they may have touched, or finished disinfecting surfaces, get those hands clean. Rub with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. (That’s about the length of singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice). If you can’t wash up, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

3. See Your Physician for Medications

Antiviral medications may be used to treat the flu, but they can also be used as a prevention tool. Since the influenza virus itself changes each year, the antiviral medications can change, too. In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:

  • Oseltamivir (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®),
  • Zanamivir (Relenza®)
  • Peramivir (Rapivab®)

If you think you’re starting to have some flu symptoms, talk to your physician about medications right away. When started within 2 days of getting the flu, antiviral medications can reduce the length of the illness and lessen your symptoms. They can also reduce the risk of complications, such as pneumonia or hospitalization.

These medications are only available with a prescription, so you will need to see a physician in order to get them.

Remember: Antiviral medications are not substitutes for the flu vaccine.

4. Hands Off

Most people catch the flu directly from other people. When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes, or talks, they release tiny droplets into the air. If the droplets land on your mouth or nose, or you breathe them in, then you very well may have just gotten the flu.

This means physical contact should be off limits. And we’re not just talking hand-holding or kissing. The flu-filled droplets can travel up to 6 feet. While you may need to come into the room to bring them soup or medicine, try to avoid being in close quarters with your loved one for too long.

5. Bye-Bye, Bed

The flu can also spread when droplets land on surfaces, you touch those surfaces, and then you transfer the droplets to your mouth or nose.

Even if you’re tempted to go near each other and break the no-touching rule, you will definitely want to make new sleeping arrangements. If your spouse has been spending the day recuperating in bed, their sneezes and coughs are bound to have gone everywhere, making your bed a flu pool.

6. Remember: Sharing Is Not Caring

Since flu germs can get everywhere, give your spouse a stockpile of items, such as pens or eating utensils, that are solely for their use. Make it clear to everyone in your home that they should not touch any of these items until they have been cleaned and sanitized.

You may want to have your spouse use paper or plastic dishes and silverware, and paper towels instead of hand towels. Once the flu is gone from your house, you can switch back to a more eco-friendly way of living.

7. Play Dress-Up

Do you absolutely need to be close by your loved one? Have they been walking all over, spreading their germs throughout the whole house?

If so, you may need to make a bold fashion choice and start rocking a face mask and disposable gloves. They might not be the stars of Fashion Week, but they can be the stars of Avoid-Getting-the-Flu Week.

8. Play Nurse — to Yourself

Your first instinct may be to take care of your spouse. And while that’s true, don’t forget to care for yourself, too.

Keep your immune system as strong as possible so that you’re primed to live under the same roof as a flu patient without catching it. You can do this by:

  • Getting enough sleep: The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting about 7 to 9 hours per night.
  • Staying stress-free: This can be difficult when you’re worried about getting sick, plus your bottomless list of other stuff. But too much stress, especially if you have chronic (long-lasting) stress, can weaken your immune system.
  • Eat a nutritious diet: Make sure to get enough of the vitamins and minerals that are known to boost the immune system:
    • Protein: Lean meat, seafood, eggs, beans, soy products
    • Vitamin A: Sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, bell peppers, carrots, apricots
    • Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, red bell peppers, tomato juice, strawberries
    • Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, peanut butter, almonds
    • Zinc: Lean meat, poultry, milk, whole grain products, nuts

If you think you may have the flu or have been exposed to it, see your primary care provider right away. Call (785) 270-4440 to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider.

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