How to Stay Healthy When Your Family Is Sick

It's a common problem—one person in your family gets sick and illness quickly spreads to other family members. While it isn't always possible to avoid getting sick when someone in the house is contagious, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers ways to minimize your chances and stay well. Likewise, there's much you can do to keep your family well if you are sick.

Mother and Father with Sick Child.
Tim Hawley/Getty Images

If Someone Else Is Sick

The important things for keeping yourself healthy when there's a sick person in your house are to limit your exposure to their germs and take good care of yourself.

  • Wash your hands—a lot. In addition to all the times you should wash them anyway, such as after you use the bathroom and before you eat, you should also wash them whenever you touch things that sick family members have touched. If you don't have soap and water available and your hands aren't visibly soiled, use hand sanitizing gel or wipes.
  • Clean toys that sick children have been playing with thoroughly and frequently.
  • Do not share food or drinks, along with drinking cups or eating utensils, and make sure all dishes are cleaned with hot water and soap after use.
  • Avoid touching your face. It's easy for germs to travel from your hands into your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • If your partner or spouse is sick, it is probably best to sleep in separate rooms. If this is not an option, at least try to sleep facing in opposite directions and wash your sheets frequently in hot water, or wear a face mask while sleeping.
  • Avoid kissing and hugging those who are sick. Colds and many other respiratory infections are spread by droplet transmission. That basically means that germs live in and are spread through your saliva and nasal secretions, and kissing or close contact can bring you into contact with those germs.
  • Be aware that pretty much anything that is touched by a sick family member, such as the remote control, could potentially have germs on it. Some types of cold viruses can live on objects for days, so a thorough cleaning of anything that could be shared by family members is essential.
  • Make sure you don't use the same hand towel as the sick person.
  • Don't share toothbrushes, and try not to let your toothbrush come in contact with the sick person's toothbrush.
  • Take care of yourself by eating a nutrient-dense diet, staying hydrated, and getting enough rest. It's hard to do those things when you're taking care of sick kids, but try to maintain good habits as much as possible so your body isn't rundown.

As a preventive measure, get a flu shot every year, especially if you have young kids in the house.

Teach your children to follow healthy habits like hand washing and sneezing into their elbow or a tissue. Kids bring all kinds of germs home from school or daycare, then spread them to other family members. Good health habits can help cut down on illness in your household.

If You're the One Who's Sick

Most of the above tips apply here as well, but you can do a few extra things to protect others in the household from your germs.

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not your hands. This will help minimize the chances that you will pass on your germs via droplet transmission or when touching objects around the house.
  • Throw your dirty tissues away immediately after using them. Leaving dirty tissues around can help spread germs around your house.
  • Consider wearing a face mask if you are contagious and must be in close contact with someone, such as a baby you need to care for.
  • Try to isolate yourself by minimizing time spent with family members and stick to a 6-foot distance when you're in the same room to avoid germ transmission.
  • Avoid preparing food for others when you can. If you have to prepare a meal for someone, wash your hands thoroughly first.

A Word From Verywell

Sometimes, even your best efforts won't prevent all illnesses from spreading through your family. If any family member has cold symptoms that seem especially severe or last longer than 10 days, it's always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider to make sure the cold hasn't turned into something more serious. For the flu, you can talk to your healthcare provider about medications that can shorten the duration.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  4. Osterholm MT, Kelley NS, Sommer A, Belongia EA. Efficacy and effectiveness of influenza vaccines: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infect Dis. 2012;12(1):36-44. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(11)70295-X

Additional Reading

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.