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Taking Care of the Sick at Home

Home Health Care Basics

Preventing the Spread of Virus and Bacteria

1. Maintain a separate room at least 6 feet from the sick.
2. Keep bed, bed sheets, pillows and covers clean and dry.
3. Clean soiled items with hot water, soap, and chlorine bleach.
4. Spray surfaces with a 1 part to 10 parts bleach solution.
5. Ensure that hand sanitizers are at least 60% alcohol based.
7. Consult a doctor about Tamiflu (most useful if taken in the early stages of the flu).

Over-the-Counter Products for Home Use

  • Table salt
  • Table sugar
  • Baking soda
  • Household bleach (for cleaning and sterilizing)
  • Tums EX
  • Acetaminophen - 500 mg (fever reducer)
  • Ibuprofen - 200 mg (fever reducer)
  • De-caffeinated tea (hydration)
  • Electronic thermometer
  • Blood pressure monitor
  • Diphenhydramine - 25 mg (antihistamine)

Prescription Products

If your doctor recommends it, one month's supply of the following prescriptions may be helpful to have on hand.

  • Tamiflu (75 mg) - 2 tablets a day for 5-10 days
  • Phenergan (25 mg) - 1/2 to 1 tablet every 4 hours, as needed, for nausea
  • Cough medicine, such as Hydrocodone
  • Diazepam (Valium) for anxiety, muscle aches, or insomnia

Basic Home Care for the Sick

Keep patient clean, dry, and warm.
Prevent dehydration by encouraging the patient to drink one gallon of water per day. Things to know:

  • Causes of dehydration: fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea.
  • Signs of dehydration: dry mouth, decreased saliva, lack of urine production, loss of skin elasticity, low blood pressure, weakness, headache, fainting.
  • Force fluids: drop by drop or teaspoon if necessary 2-3 quarts a day at a minimum
  • Oral Re-hydration Formula (ORS): 4 cups clean water, 3 tablespoons sugar or honey, and 1/4 teaspoon salt (may flavor or substitute juice for 1 cup of water).
Treat fever, body aches, chills, sore throat, and/or headache as follows:
  • Give Acetaminophen and/or Ibuprofen to lower fever and address symptoms. Both can be used together with a doctor's OK (never give aspirin to children under the age of 18 without speaking to a physician first).
  • Give tepid water sponge baths to reduce high fever (over 102 degrees). DO NOT USE ALCOHOL.
  • Gargle with very warm salt water to ease a sore throat.
  • Hot, caffeinated tea eases headaches, a sore throat and coughing.
Encourage patient to eat food, as tolerated. If patient is too ill to eat or is experiencing intestinal problems, start with Step 1. As symptoms improve, advance through the next Steps. If symptoms recur, return to previous Step.

    Step 1: ORS (see number 2. above), with water, fruit juice, Jell-O, Gatorade, ginger ale, Sprite, or tea.

    Step 2: White toast without butter or margarine, white rice, cream of wheat, soda crackers, and/or potatoes without the skin.

    Step 3: Steps 1 and 2 with canned fruit and chicken noodle soup.

    Step 4: Steps 1, 2 and 3 with milk, dairy products, margarine or butter, raw fruits and vegetables, and high fiber whole grain food products.


Adapted from Woodson Monograph.htm


Center for Disease Control (CDC)
Tel: 1-800-311-3435

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Tel: 301-496-4000 TTY: 301-406-9212

Written by Trish Christian, M.N., RN, CS, CEAP
Edited by Mary Sue McClain
August 2009

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