What to do if you or your child gets sick with COVID-19 at home
Tips on how to care for a sick person and protect others from being infected.
Many people who get sick with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and are able to recover at home. For a lot of families living together though, it’s often difficult to avoid spreading the virus to others. Here are some tips on what to do if you or a family member gets sick.
People who test positive for COVID-19 and have mild or no symptoms can usually be cared for safely at home, provided they are not at risk of severe disease. People at risk of severe disease – including people who are older, pregnant or have a chronic medical condition or immunosuppressive condition – should contact their healthcare provider for guidance.
Seek medical attention immediately if the sick person’s condition worsens.
How to care for someone with COVID-19
As you look after your sick family member, remember to take care of yourself too.
Limit the number of caregivers. Ideally, assign one person who is in good health and not at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 – i.e. fully vaccinated, below 60 years old and with no chronic health conditions.
Help the sick person to follow instructions from their doctor. In general, they should rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
Seek medical attention immediately if the sick person has:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Loss of speech or mobility
Some symptoms depend on age. You should seek urgent care if a baby is unable to breastfeed, if a young child has a high fever, or if a child suddenly appears confused, refuses to eat, or if their face or lips turn blue.
Monitor yourself and others in your home for any symptoms of COVID-19 – including fever, sore throat, muscle or body ache, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, shortness of breath dry cough or tiredness. For children the symptoms might vary. Infants’ symptoms can include difficulty in feeding, fast breathing and lethargy. Get tested if you have any of these symptoms.
It is important to follow precautions even if you and other family members are vaccinated. No vaccine protects you 100 per cent against infection and it is possible you may spread the virus to others if you are infected.
Talk to your children about these preventative measures and how it’s important that you all follow them carefully to help stop the spread of the virus.
Physical distance: Avoid unnecessary contact with the ill person who should stay in a separate room if possible, or at least 1 metre away from others in the household, to reduce the risk of spreading infection.
Wear a mask: Everyone should wear a well-fitting medical mask when in the same room as the ill person (who should wear one as well).
Regular handwashing: Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub regularly, especially after any contact with the sick person.
Ventilation: Ensure that shared spaces (e.g. kitchen, bathroom) are kept well ventilated (keep windows open).
Cleaning and hygiene: Use dedicated dishes, cups, eating utensils, bed sheets and towels for the ill person. Wash all of them with soap and hot water.
Identify surfaces that are frequently touched by the ill person (such as chairs, tables, bed frames, door handles and toys) and clean and disinfect them daily.
>> Read: Tips on cleaning and disinfecting
Clean and disinfect the bathroom using gloves (if available) after each use by the sick person if they are unable to do so themselves.
Dirty laundry from a sick person can be washed with other people’s items, but precautions should be taken:
- Handle the sick person’s laundry with gloves (if available).
- Launder items with soap or detergent, using the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely – both steps help to kill the virus.
- Wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub, immediately afterwards.
- Consider storing laundry in disposable bags rather than your usual laundry basket.
Use a separate garbage bag for the sick person to dispose of used tissues, masks and other waste safely.
Visitors should not be allowed until the patient has completely recovered and has no signs or symptoms of COVID-19.
Follow national guidance on how long the sick person should remain isolated and whether others in the home should as well. WHO recommends sick people should self-isolate for 10 days from the start of any symptoms, plus three days after symptoms end.
What to tell children if someone falls sick in the family
Being sick is hard on everyone in the family, including those who aren’t ill. How children respond to the situation depends a lot on their age. Younger children might not understand what is going on and why they suddenly cannot see a parent or sibling. For older children it can cause worry and painful feelings. Some might blame themselves for what is happening.
Talk to your children about what is happening and try to answer any questions they might have using age-appropriate language. Remember that children take their cues from adults, so try to approach the conversation in a calm way.
Talk to them about the virus, why it’s important to give the sick family member some space to get better and how everyone needs to be careful not to spread the virus (particularly if you need to protect any vulnerable people living in your home).
Make sure your children are involved in your family plans on how to deal with the situation. Find ways to be together as a family at a safe distance, such as video calls at mealtimes or reading stories together through a door. You can also encourage them to draw pictures or write letters, which can help them express their feelings and provide a welcome pick-me-up for the sick family member.
What to do if you fall ill
If you feel ill or test positive for COVID-19 then stay home. If your condition worsens or you have difficulty breathing, call your healthcare facility immediately.
If you are your child’s sole caregiver, then consider who could look after your child if you become too ill to do so. Ideally, the caregiver should be someone who is not at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
Try to stay in a separate room if possible, or at least 1 metre from others around you, to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Keep the room well-ventilated with windows open as much as possible.
Wear a well-fitting medical mask when you’re around others. After use, take off the mask carefully, avoid touching the potentially contaminated surfaces of the mask. Discard the mask in a closed bin immediately after use.
Cleaning and hygiene
When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth with a flexed elbow or use a disposable tissue and discard after use.
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
Don't share meals, eating utensils, bedding or towels.
Avoid touching objects and surfaces in common areas.
If well enough, clean and disinfect the bathroom after each use.
Check with your healthcare provider on how long you should stay home and self-isolate. WHO recommends self-isolating for 10 days from the start of any symptoms, plus three days after symptoms end.
Being isolated can be difficult. It’s normal to experience a range of emotions, such as feeling stressed, anxious, sad, scared and angry. Staying active, maintaining a routine and talking to people you trust by phone or online can make a big difference.
If you are breastfeeding, you should continue with appropriate precautions. The transmission of COVID-19 through breastmilk and breastfeeding has not been detected.
What to do if your child is ill
If your child has COVID-19 symptoms, then seek medical advice as soon as they start to feel unwell, even if symptoms are mild.
If your doctor says it is safe to care for your child at home, try to limit contact to one caregiver as much as possible to protect other family members – especially those at high risk of severe disease – from being exposed to infection. If possible, this caregiver should be healthy with no underlying health conditions and vaccinated. If it is not possible to separate the child and caregiver from the rest of the family, try to separate those at high risk of severe disease from the infected child and their caregiver.
Do not isolate children on their own.
Talk to your child about COVID-19 and why it’s important to try and keep a distance from other family members for a while.
The caregiver and, if possible, the child (age 6 years and older), should wear a well-fitting medical mask when in close contact and wash hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
Rest, plenty of fluids and nutritious foods will support your child’s recovery.
Reassure your child that you will look after them and with some time and rest they will feel better.
Listen to your child's questions or worries
The pandemic has caused a lot of worry and uncertainty for everyone. Having COVID-19 can cause a range of emotions, from anger and anxiety to sadness. Acknowledge their feelings and assure them that it’s natural to feel that way.
Some children may have heard false information about COVID-19 from friends or online that can cause them to be anxious or ashamed. Check what they know and, if needed, share the correct information using trustworthy sites like WHO and UNICEF.
Be responsive to your child’s needs
Think up ways together for them to stay connected with other family members and friends.
Try to make the space in which the child and caregiver are isolating as child friendly as possible.
If your child feels well enough, try to find creative ways to play and to stimulate them. Play and learning continue to be an important part of a child’s life.
If your child’s symptoms worsen, call your healthcare provider immediately.
You should seek urgent care if a baby is unable to breastfeed, or if a child suddenly appears confused, refuses to eat, or if their face or lips turn blue.
Continue to breastfeed your child if they become ill. If your little one has COVID-19 or another illness, it is important to continue nourishing them with breastmilk. Breastfeeding boosts your baby’s immune system, and your antibodies are passed to them through breastmilk, which help to fight infections.
>> Read: Breastfeeding tips during COVID-19
This article was published on 18 January 2022. For more information see WHO's website.
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