Are you being a good visitor?

Written by Sarah Waby, BSN
Infection Preventionist

We all know how important it is to visit a loved one or friend who is elderly, alone or ill. The gift of your time and conversation is a very precious thing in improving their well-being, but there times you should postpone that visit so you don’t bring them an illness along with your good wishes.
You know the feeling, you wake up with a sore throat, fever, cough. Or, your stomach is upset and you are making frequent bathroom stops. These can be symptoms of many things, but they might be symptoms of respiratory or gastrointestinal illnesses that can spread quickly.
What do you do?

Being a good visitor includes some basic principles of infection prevention.
The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) suggest these guidelines when visiting at healthcare and residential facilities:

  • Stay home and do not visit your loved one if you are sick or have had any ill symptoms within the last three days— including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever (or feeling feverish), an uncontrolled cough, or a rash.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands frequently—before and after visiting your loved one. Insist that other visitors do the same. Clean your hands after touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, after using the restroom, and before and after eating or drinking. Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve, and do not sit on the resident’s bed or handle the equipment. Also be sure to help residents with hand hygiene before eating and after going to the bathroom.
  • Don’t contribute to the clutter and ask if you can help clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces frequently (every one to two hours). High-touch surfaces include doorknobs, toilet handles, bedside trays, and many others.
  • Wear surgical masks if requested by staff. Remove the masks when leaving patient/resident care areas, and if you touch the mask, replace it.
  • Recognize if you’re coming down with an illness. Be honest about how you feel, and realize if you are coming down with a respiratory illness, you are MORE contagious during the first 24-48 hours than you are at the end of the illness, after your immune system has a chance to fight the illness.

Gastrointestinal illness (stomach “bugs”) caused by viruses can spread like wildfire through long-term care communities. Norovirus, the most common cause of gastrointestinal illness, causes severe and prolonged nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although some people may call this type of illness the “stomach flu,” it is NOT the flu.

The flu (or influenza) can cause severe illness and sometimes death in long-term care residents—symptoms usually come on suddenly and include fever, chills, body aches, headaches, tiredness, and runny/stuffy nose. Remember to get your flu shot each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive flu shots each and every year and there is still time to get your flu shot this year.