Following an Outbreak

April 11, 2016

Nurse with NeedleHep C outbreaks occur at least once a year these days. They range from small—a few dozen infected, to huge, with thousands infected.

The current outbreak is over in Utah, where a nurse spread her very specific strain of hepatitis to at least 16 patients. Initially, a net was cast to check to see if thousands of patients might be infected.

But it’s not just the risk for Hep C that hurts patients. Following the outline of an outbreak, you can see there are other ways, too:

It starts with someone who is hired that has a drug addiction. They may be employed for months or years before found out. Doctors and nurses in hospitals with outbreaks have said that stigma has prevented them from seeking assistance on behalf of colleagues who clearly have a problem.

In hospitals, medications, especially pain relievers, are tightly locked up and monitored. This has the effect of one bad apple ruining it for everyone—it’s not uncommon for people with true chronic pain conditions to have trouble adequately managing them because procedure requires suspicion of guilt.

Since it’s locked up, when addicts want to steal some pain relievers, they have to do it directly from patients. In past outbreaks, medication has been stolen during surgery (infecting the container), taken from a single-use container/syringe then refilled with saline, or just straight shared.

Summed up:

-Patients with real pain have trouble getting medication/treatment
-Patients aren’t getting enough pain medication during procedures, but often just saline—and they’re paying for it.
-Patients are at an increased risk for infections that include hepatitis (Hepatitis C tops the list because it’s super virulent, but Hepatitis A sometimes happens, too), MRSA, and HIV.

Clearly, we’re not going about preventing these outbreaks the right way!

On the individual level, you can protect yourself in a couple of ways:

-Always keep a sharp eye out when in the hospital. Make sure medical waste is being properly disposed of.], and look for other signs of proper procedure like handwashing.
Support your immune system. Ideally do it everyday, but if you know you’ll be going into the hospital, do it more before and after.

What are your thoughts on the frequency of outbreaks?

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