Health officials are urging anyone who feels ill to isolate and stay home as cases of the novel coronavirus continue to spread in the U.S., but what about those who already require care assistance or are too young to care for themselves? For those patients and their caretakers, the guidance may be murky, as is trying to tell the difference between COVID-19 symptoms and the cold and flu.
“The flu and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses that have similar symptoms,” Dr. Macklin E. Guzman, DHSc, MPH, epidemiologist, global health expert and medi-weightloss principal clinical scientist, told Fox News. “If a family household member falls ill and starts exhibiting symptoms that resemble a respiratory illness (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath), it is important that his or her health care provider be contacted so that they can be evaluated.”
Guzman said health care providers can determine whether a COVID-19 test needs to be administered and that you should not assume that a family member has coronavirus without a laboratory-confirmed test. He added that those who are healthy and do not have a compromised immune system can continue to safely care for these patients as they are not considered to be at high risk for developing complications.
Even if the patient does test positive, it can be considered safe to continue supporting them with some extra precautions.
“It is generally safe if you follow safeguards to minimize the spread of infection and keep a safe distance from your family member that is ill,” Guzman said.
The precautions, as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Guzman, can include making sure the patient is following their health care provider’s instructions for medication and care, helping them with getting groceries or prescriptions and helping to monitor their symptoms for any signs of worsening illness.
Household members should wear a facemask around the patient and stay in a separate room and be separated as much as possible. Visitors should also be prohibited in the home, and patients should not care for household pets while sick.
“The best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 is to follow all the same basic practices that are important to protecting yourselves from the flu,” he said. “These practices can apply both inside and outside of the home.”
According to the CDC, those include washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue. It’s also advised to practice cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Once the patient has begun to improve, it’s still important to take steps in minimizing secondary transmission.
“The decision to discontinue home isolation precautions should be made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with health care providers,” Guzman said. “If you are living under the same roof as a family member with confirmed COVID-19 it is best to continue to follow distance precautions as mentioned above by the CDC.”
As always, Guzman said, if you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should make an effort to stay away from people whose immune systems could be compromised in any way, including newborns, toddlers, those who are on immunosuppressive drugs, cancer patients, elderly patients, those who have had major surgery or are chronically ill, and those with chronic respiratory issues.
“Although nursing home residents greatly enjoy having visitors, it’s better to stay away if you’re suffering from a cold or flu and have symptoms such as uncontrollable coughing and sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, congestion or fever,” Guzman said. “Anyone who visits a nursing home should wash his or her hands or use hand sanitizer upon entering the home, use your sleeve or tissue to open doorknobs, and avoid touching surfaces whenever possible.”