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How Caregivers Can Prevent Infectious Diseases

Introduction

The past few months have been filled with anxiety as constant news and discussion of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic surrounds us daily. This time can be especially stressful for caregivers, as their loved ones or care recipients may be among the most at-risk of severe illness.

If you’re a caregiver, you don’t have to feel powerless. There are preventative measures you can take to reduce the risk of your care recipient becoming infected with COVID-19 or other harmful illnesses.  

Wash Hands Regularly

Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways of preventing diseases from spreading. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses that you wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, or as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Some critical times to wash your hands are after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose, after going to the bathroom, after being in a public place, before eating or preparing food, and before and after providing care to the care recipient.

You should also try to remind or encourage the care recipient to wash their hands regularly if possible. If they cannot easily get up to wash their hands with soap and water frequently, a hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol will suffice.  

Wash Hands Regularly

Clean and Disinfect Surroundings

In addition to washing your hands, you should routinely disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces. This can include countertops, tables, doorknobs, handles, light switches, toilets, faucets, and sinks. Clean with soap and water first and then disinfect with a surface-appropriate household disinfectant. Be sure to wear gloves during this process.

Technology such as phones, computers, tablets, and keyboards are also high-touch items and should be disinfected following manufacturer guidelines. Consider using a cover or case that can easily be wiped down with a disinfectant. Additionally, keep thermometers and other medical equipment sterilized.

Bedding, towels, and other laundry should also be regularly cleaned using the warmest appropriate water setting. Hampers and laundry baskets should be cleaned and disinfected as well. Be sure to wear gloves when handling laundry or other objects used by someone who is sick.

For more specific instructions, the CDC’s detailed guide to cleaning and disinfecting can help. 

Clean and Disinfect Surroundings

Cover all Cuts and Scratches

Even the smallest of cuts or scrapes can become infected in at-risk patients, especially if the care recipient is prone to picking at wounds. To reduce the risk of infection, clean cuts or scratches with an antibiotic ointment or petroleum jelly and cover with a bandage or gauze. Be sure to change the dressings at least once a day.

Cover all Cuts and Scratches

Wear Gloves and a Face Mask

Wear disposable gloves when coming into contact with body fluids such as blood or other infectious materials or if you are providing care with any open cuts, sores, or dermatitis on your hands. If you think you might be getting sick, you may consider wearing a face mask when providing care if one is available.

According to the CDC, you do not need to wear a mask if you are not sick. However, if you are caring for someone who is already ill, they should wear a mask when they are around you or others to prevent spreading the illness. If they are not able to safely wear a face mask, caregivers should wear one when in the same room as them.

To properly discard gloves and face masks, first remove and dispose of gloves then immediately clean your hands. Next, remove and dispose of your facemask if you are wearing one and immediately rewash your hands. Do not reuse disposable gloves or facemasks.  

Wear Gloves and a Face Mask

Designate Household Areas for those Infected

If someone in the household becomes sick, they should be isolated in a separate room and bathroom to reduce the likelihood of infecting the at-risk patient or anyone else sharing the home. They should remain separated as much as possible and eat or be fed in their room. Be sure also to provide them with a lined trash can.

If a separate bathroom is not available, after each use by anyone infected, clean and disinfect the room. Do not share dishes, towels, or other household items with the sick person and immediately wash them with hot water after the ill person uses them. To further reduce contact, only clean items in the designated areas when necessary (if they are soiled, etc.) and use gloves when disposing of designated trash bags.  

Have an Alternative Caregiver in Place Should You Become Sick

While you are likely doing your best to remain healthy, it’s vital that you have a plan in place should you become unwell yourself. Identify an alternative caregiver and discuss important care routines and information with them ahead of time. This will allow you to remain isolated if infected and rest assured that the care recipient is in good hands.

You might also consider asking the care recipient’s doctor or pharmacist to fill prescriptions in larger quantities. This reduces trips to the pharmacy and allows for medicines to be readily at hand in the event of an alternative caregiver being needed.  

Monitor Symptoms

While you do your best to prevent infection, be sure to still look out for any notable signs the care recipient exhibits. The CDC lists a fever, cough, and shortness of breath as symptoms of COVID-19. If the care recipient has any of these symptoms, monitor them carefully and manage the symptoms with fluids and over-the-counter medicines.

Seek medical attention if they have trouble breathing, persistent chest pressure, or their symptoms become concerning in any other way.  

Of course, be sure to look out for these symptoms in yourself as well. Take care of your body, and take time to relax and unwind when you can. Remember, you are doing the best you can.

For more information regarding caregiving during the coronavirus pandemic and managing the stress that comes along with it, the Family Caregiver Alliance has compiled a great list of resources. 

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About the Author

Stephanie Schwarten is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelors degree in Professional Writing. She specializes in content marketing as well as both developmental and copy editing. 

About Carex Health Brands

Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.

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