TOKYO -- With the new coronavirus continuing to spread, experts advising Japan's health ministry recommend that some people, such as those with light symptoms or who have recovered to a certain extent, self-quarantine at home. When doing so, it is important they take measures to prevent spreading the disease to other household members.
So what are the best ways to care for a family member as regards cleaning, doing laundry, and otherwise keeping the household running?
Quarantine family members suspected of being sick
If a family member is suspected of having the coronavirus, they should stay home for about two weeks. According to the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control, they also need to keep at least 2 m away from other family members to avoid spreading the disease through sneezes or coughs. It is also important to frequently disinfect places that may have been exposed to airborne droplets, like doorknobs and handrails. The virus could also be on hands, so it is best to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth.
Also, caregiving should be limited to one person. Both the patient and caregiver should always wear masks, and the caregiver should use gloves. Frequent hand washings are also a must, especially after tending the patient.
In determining a caregiver, "it's best to choose someone healthy and under 50 years old," said Ko Ichihashi, a professor at Jichi Medical University Saitama Medical Center. Many elderly people and those with preexisting conditions like diabetes have weaker immune systems, which puts them at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if infected.
It is also important to isolate the sick person in a separate room. Absent this, setting up a partition that can block airborne droplets is also effective.
Family members should avoid sharing towels, clothing and bedding with the patient.
Disinfect laundry with hot water
When an infected person is at home, extra care should be taken when doing laundry. There is no need to separate items used by the sick, according to the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control.
However, the virus can survive inside fabric fibers. Moreover, when clothing has been exposed to contaminants like vomit or diarrhea, the possibility of contact with the virus is higher. Hence, laundry should be soaked in hot water before washing. "Soaking in water 80 C or higher for at least 10 minutes is effective in killing the virus," said Ichihashi.
Give everyone their own dishes and cutlery
Do not share meals from one communal dish, and make sure each family member has their own plates, bowls and cutlery. According to the Tohoku Medical and Pharmaceutical University, it is best to soak the patient's dishes and cutlery in a disinfectant solution for at least 10 minutes before washing. To make a disinfectant, the university advises adding two capfuls -- about 10 ml -- of undiluted sodium hypochlorite, such as bleach, to 2 liters of water.
Wet towels help
According to the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control, first wiping a contaminated area with a dilute sodium hypochlorite solution followed by a wet towel, or wiping with an alcohol-based disinfectant are good ways to remove or reduce the virus. When cleaning vomit or diarrhea, a stronger sodium hypochlorite solution should be used. This can be made by adding 10 ml of sodium hypochlorite to 500 ml of water.
When stores are out of disinfectant, using a wet towel to clean a bath or toilet is better than nothing in "reducing the presence of viruses in the surrounding environment," according to the Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control.
Frequently air out the home
In addition to disinfecting doorknobs, tables and beds on a daily basis, changing the air is also vital. If possible, this should be done every hour, advises Ichihashi.
Any garbage produced by the sick person should be disposed of properly, and family members other than caregivers should not directly handle it, especially if the garbage contains the patient's body fluids. Garbage should be tightly sealed in a vinyl bag and discarded.
Go slow with a recovering patient
Even if the infected family member starts to feel better or is hospitalized, continue to exercise caution. The incubation period for the novel coronavirus is believed to last up to two weeks. Additionally, based on similar coronaviruses, "it's possible it takes as much as a week" for the virus to become inactive in a room, said Ichihashi. At the very least, all family members should check their temperature in the mornings and evenings, and wear masks when going out.