Influenza - advice to patients
During the influenza season each winter, many households may have one or more people with influenza who require nursing at home. Here is advice about caring for the patient with minimal risk of others being infected.
How is influenza transmitted?
Influenza is spread by contact between people from coughing, sneezing and close contact with sick people.
The influenza virus is found in the respiratory tract. The risk of infection is therefore greatest when the patient coughs or sneezes directly onto another person.
The patient can carry the virus on their hands which can be transferred to objects (e.g. door handles) where the virus can survive for a few hours. Others may get the virus on their hands and transfer it into their nose or mouth. The chance of being infected in this way is small.
Treatment of influenza
Influenza is a viral infection which passes so the symptoms of the disease are treated. However, on rare occasions the infection can cause serious illness and a physician should be consulted immediately (see below).
Ensure the patient gets rest and enough to drink. Antipyretic drugs may be necessary to reduce fever. Both pain and fever can be suppressed with acetaminophen/paracetamol. Aspirin should not be given to children with influenza (risk of Reye's syndrome).
Tamiflu and Relenza are drugs to treat influenza. Treatment can shorten the period of illness, alleviate symptoms and will probably also reduce the risk of complications. The treatment is most effective when started early after becoming ill (within 48 hours). Treatment is especially important for people at risk of developing complications but people outside the risk groups should consider contacting a doctor for antiviral treatment if they feel unwell. With severe illness, treatment can be started later in the course of the disease.
When to seek medical attention
If the patient is pregnant, or is in one of the risk groups for developing severe disease or other complications of influenza, seek medical attention for necessary treatment and follow-up.
Always contact your doctor if the condition of the patient worsens. Call the emergency doctor immediately if the patient:
- shows signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth and little urination
- vomits and has trouble keeping drinks down, with the risk of dehydration
- has very rapid or laboured breathing
Call 113 if the patient:
- has trouble breathing or has chest pain
- has purple or bluish lips
- has seizures with convulsions
- does not respond normally or appears confused
Influenza patients with severe symptoms, especially those who belong to a risk group for complications, should be supervised. As with other diseases that can worsen rapidly, monitor the patient during the night.
Reduce the risk of infection to others in the household
- Limit the number of people in contact with the patient to vaccinated family members. Avoid visits from unvaccinated people.
- Good hand hygiene is important for everyone in the home. Wash your hands with soap and water or use disinfectant.
- Each person in the home should use their own towel to dry hands after washing.
- Help the patient to have good hand hygiene. If an alcohol hand rub is available, keep this at the bedside.
- The patient should use tissues when coughing and sneezing. Put a plastic bag on the bed into which the patient can throw used tissues directly.
- Face masks can be used by unvaccinated helpers who have close contact with the patient. Use disposable face masks when close (less than a metre) to the patient and remove and throw it directly into the waste bag every time you leave the room. Wash or disinfect hands immediately after removing the face mask.
- The patient may wear a face mask in situations where they may be in close contact with others, for example if they have to leave their bedroom or house.
How to use a face mask:
- Position the face mask over the nose, mouth and chin
- Adjust the metal clip over the nose so the mask sits well
- Fasten the bands (or elastic) behind the head
- Adjust the face mask so it fits well around the nose and the chin
How to remove the face mask:
- Do not touch the face mask, only the bands (elastic) behind the head.
- Loosen the lower band first, then the upper one.
- Remove the face mask from the face by holding the bands.
- Discard the face mask in the waste bag without touching it.
- Wash or disinfect hands
Used masks should not be re-used as this can increase the risk of infection.
Procedures for cleaning, laundry and waste
- Dispose of used tissues, masks and other waste used by the patient or at their house. Wash or disinfect hands once the waste is discarded.
- Wash bedside tables and other surfaces around the patient regularly, as well as the bathroom used by the patient.
- Textiles used by the sick person do not need to be washed separately, but should be washed before use by others.
- Wash or disinfect your hands immediately after handling used textiles.
- Cups, glasses and cutlery used by the patient do not need to be washed separately, but should not be used by others before being cleaned.