• Kyodo

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As Japan struggles to contain a recent surge of coronavirus infections, preventing the virus from spreading within households has become a major challenge.

An increasing number of COVID-19 patients have been told to recover at home as many parts of the nation see a shortage of hospital beds. However, medical experts have highlighted the dangers of home isolation and the difficulty of stopping others in the infected person’s household from being exposed even when preventive steps are taken.

A 49-year-old woman in Sapporo, Hokkaido, recently spoke of how the virus had quickly spread among three generations of her family living in one apartment despite the basic anti-virus steps they took, such as remaining isolated in separate rooms, wearing masks and disinfecting surfaces.

On Nov. 27, the woman’s 21-year-old daughter tested positive for the virus. Since she had an underlying mental illness and was only suffering a mild fever and cough, the family decided to let her recuperate at home following consultation with the local public health center.

The infected woman’s mother and her 80-year-old grandmother were also asked to remain at home because of the chance they may have also contracted the virus.

The daughter was isolated in one room, everyone ate from different plates, and doorknobs and other things at home were regularly disinfected. But there was no other option but to share a bathroom and toilet.

On Dec. 2, the 80-year-old was found to be infected with the virus. While she did not develop severe symptoms, she was hospitalized due to her old age.

Then the 49-year-old went to a doctor after developing a cough and runny nose. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Dec. 7.

She remained at home, struggling with fatigue and bedridden for nearly 10 days.

“I couldn’t eat and there were times when I thought I would die,” the woman said. She still suffers from a loss of taste, one of the common symptoms of COVID-19.

In Sapporo, about 30% of people who tested positive between Jan. 4 and 17, and whose transmission routes were determined, were infected by family members.

In Tokyo, the rate was about 50% for almost the same period.

According to the health ministry, there were 35,394 COVID-19 patients recovering in their homes as of Jan. 20.

“Putting (patients) in isolation is a general rule and it is difficult to prevent infections at home. Securing accommodation such as hotels is necessary,” said Seiichi Kobayashi, a clinical immunology professor at the Sapporo University of Health Sciences.

“If there is the need for (someone) to recover at home, it is important to limit the number of things shared between the infected person and their family members,” Kobayashi said.


When your family gets infected with COVID-19

The health ministry advises you to:

  • Isolate the infected person from others in the family
  • Limit the person/people to take care of the patient
  • Have all family members wear a mask
  • Wash hands and gurgle frequently
  • Ventilate the house during the day
  • Disinfect door knobs and other places people might touch often
  • Wash or disinfect used towels and clothes
  • Seal the garbage airtight when throwing away

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