Tips to Live By

How to Share a Home With Someone Who's Sick (Without Getting Sick Yourself)

April 17, 2020 - Katie McCallum

The viruses that cause common illnesses such as the seasonal flu, common cold, stomach flu and COVID-19 can all be spread from person-to-person — especially between people who share common spaces or live with one another.

Depending on the illness, viral particles can spread through infectious respiratory droplets or hands contaminated with infectious feces (oops!). These particles can also be deposited on commonly touched surfaces, and then picked up by someone else.

This means that safely sharing a home with someone who's sick requires important adjustments to your everyday routine.

Here are tips you can use to stay healthy and prevent the spread of germs while sharing a home with someone who's sick.

Avoid sharing common spaces and personal items

When someone you love is sick, your first instinct may be to comfort and spend more time than usual with him or her. But, in reality, you should probably do the opposite.

When someone in your home is sick, it's important that he or she stays away from others, including you, as much as possible. Ideally, the person who's sick should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom, when possible. You should also avoid sharing everyday items, including towels, bedding and dishes. Lastly (and this is important), the person who is sick should not be the one cooking meals for the rest of the healthy household.

Some viruses require extra precautions. If you share a home with someone who has COVID-19, he or she should wear a cloth face covering — especially if avoiding common spaces is challenging due to the size of your home. A cloth mask doesn't completely prevent a person from spreading COVID-19, but it can help reduce the risk.


Wash your hands

Whether you've touched a contaminated hand, surface or item, hand washing is a simple and effective way to reduce your risk of getting sick — as well as prevent the spread of germs.

In addition to the important times you already know, you should also wash your hands after interacting with someone in your home who's sick.

And keep in mind that hand washing is a bit more nuanced than running your hands under some water. Make sure you know (and perform) all five steps of proper hand washing.

Avoid touching your face

Since you can't actually see (and, therefore, know) if germs are lurking on your hands — and you also can't be constantly washing your hands — another important way to prevent getting sick is to avoid touching your face.

While the viruses mentioned can't make you sick through your skin, you can get sick if the virus is on your hands and you touch one of the mucous membranes of your face, such as your mouth, nose or eyelids.

While you can't always avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces, you can try to avoid touching your face as much as possible. If you do need to touch your face, wash you hands first.

Disinfect commonly touched surfaces every day

Germs are everywhere, and each germ is different — but pretty much every germ can survive on various surfaces for varying periods of time.

When someone in your home is sick, it's important to clean and disinfect the commonly touched surfaces where germs may be hiding, including door knobs and door handles, counters and tabletops, kitchen and bathroom faucets, toilet flushers, light switches, and TV remotes. Make sure you disinfect these surfaces often — at least once a day.

For most viruses, regular household cleaning spray, water and dish soap or a diluted bleach solution is sufficient to disinfect these surfaces. However, some viruses are harder to kill, such as the virus that causes the stomach flu. Ridding surfaces of hardier viruses may require a diluted bleach solution.

Do laundry often and with caution

Clothes, towels and sheets worn or used by someone who is sick should be handled with caution and washed thoroughly and regularly.

When handling a sick person's dirty laundry, hold it away from your face and body, avoid shaking it and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

If the laundry is soiled, and particularly if the person has COVID-19 or the stomach flu, consider wearing gloves while handling dirty laundry. You may also want to clean and disinfect laundry hampers regularly or try using a disposable bag liner.

And while you don't need to use a special detergent to wash a sick person's laundry, you should consider washing it using hot water and a longer washing cycle.

Avoid having guests

No one likes to cancel a family gathering or dinner party. But if someone in your home is sick, it's best to avoid having guests. This will limit the risk of spreading the illness to other healthy people.

Instead of having guests over, consider video chatting with friends and loved ones. Or, try one of these other tools to stay connected when you're stuck at home.

Be the designated errand-runner

To prevent the spread of illness, it's always best for someone who's sick to stay home as much as possible.

This means you should be the one getting groceries and walking the dog. This also means you're in charge of replenishing any medicines and supplies that person may need, such as pain relievers and tissues.

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