03.05 Communicable Diseases

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Hi guys! Welcome to the communicable diseases lesson. In this lesson we’ll talk about the more common contagious diseases, how they are spread and what populations are most vulnerable. Let’s get started. 

Let’s start by talking about what is a communicable disease. These are diseases that can be viral or bacterial in origin and are considered to be contagious or infectious. When we say infectious we mean they can be passed specifically from one person to another. We have a bunch of different ways these diseases spread which is why we educate so much on sanitary conditions and practices. We know the disease has to start somewhere. Contaminated surfaces, bodily fluids and blood and contaminated food products all contribute to disease spread. We can either have physical contact with these things or they can be dispersed into the air in some cases. Now that we have an idea of what a communicable disease is, let’s talk about specific diseases. 

The common cold and flu. There’s a huge debate about whether these two are droplet or airborne diseases. Some say airborne because you can breathe in the germs, others say droplet. What happens when you sneeze into your hand. Is it usually wet? Those are the droplets you caught in the air. But the person who doesn’t cover their mouth can propel those same droplets in the air for others to walk through or touch when they land on surfaces and food. Long story short, cover your mouth and wash your hands!

We are all familiar with HIV but as much as the spread has slowed with the right education to the public, it’s still very common. We know unprotected sex and contact with infected blood and bodily fluids increases your risk of contracting the disease. The majority of people diagnosed got it from those who aren’t. Totally preventable disease as long as people in the community get tested and are aware of their treatment options if diagnosed. 

How about that nasty 24 hour deal that makes you hate life and everything about it. I get calls about this all the time. “What can I do to get rid of it?” NOTHING! It’s a virus that has to run it’s course. Just stay hydrated. The actual term for it is gastroenteritis and it sounds technical like something that shouldn’t be very common, but we know it is. This bug comes from contact with stool and stool contaminated food and water. How? Someone didn’t wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, or maybe used hand sanitizer figuring it kills 99.9% of germs I’m good. NOPE! 

Funny we’re talking about stool contamination. So we have three types of hepatitis: A, B and C. Hepatitis A comes from contact with stool. It’s an anal to oral route. The good news is it doesn’t stick around it actually does pass on its own. Hepatitis B is from contact with contaminated bodily fluids. Now this can go away on its own too depending on how severe it is but can also be treated with antiviral meds. Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with contaminated blood and can also be treated with antivirals. This one doesn’t go away by itself. You may have seen commercials lately asking baby boomers to get tested. This is the generation that partied super hard during Woodstock where random sex and drug use was natural. Just throwing that out there. Try and link which they should be tested for. 

If you’ve had chicken pox as a kid like I did, you know it’s the devil. If you haven’t bless your heart, you made it.  Chickenpox is a little different because it’s airborne and contact transmission. It can be spread through the air and skin to skin contact. You’re more likely to get it if you’re in the area of someone who has it and you never have, whether they show active symptoms or not. 

So we’ve pointed out the more common communicable diseases and there are more but I just wanted to give you an idea. Now communicable diseases have to be reported to local and state health agencies, but also to the CDC. These can be reported in writing or phone and that depends on the urgency of the spread. So here’s a list of some of the reportable diseases. I’m good for not giving you guys exhaustive lists, same deal here. This is just a sample. 

In the practice settings lesson I said that nurses work for federal programs like the CDC. Here’s why. Like I said some diseases have to be reported, particularly if they have outbreak potential. Those reports initiate research to determine the who, what, when, where, how and why of the disease to prevent further spread by engaging the public and alerting them to the findings! Everything we’ve talked about in every lesson up to this point promote community wellness, this is where it all starts. We help with the actual research, the policy process we talked about and evaluating what works. We are explaining who is at risk and why, how it is spread, prevention efforts, what to look for, and what to do if you’ve been exposed. These are all things we need to ensure the public knows so less people are affected. 

Before we talk about herd immunity let’s discuss immunity. This is our body’s ability to fight off infection. We can develop immunity to diseases either artificially through vaccines or naturally when the disease is introduced into our system and we develop antibodies to fight it off. Not everyone can develop immunity. Maybe they have a disease that impairs the immune system, maybe they are allergic to a component in a vaccine and can’t get it, or maybe their body doesn’t respond to vaccination. Either way, those who lack immunity are more prone to infection. That’s where herd immunity comes in. The population becomes immune to a disease and stops the spread. This concept tells us that you can lack immunity and live in an area where the majority of people are immune and still stay disease free. Very similar to pregnant mothers, the fetus feeds off mom. The same happens with herd immunity.

So I said some people don’t have immunity. I left out some don’t want vaccines and they’re called anti-vaxers. This has a real name and I want to touch on it for a second. Vaccine hesitancy is a refusal or reluctance to vaccinate. There’s a huge fight over whether or not children should be vaccinated and as I said in the community aggregates lesson, we are starting to see diseases we haven’t seen in decades come back. This is such a big deal that the WHO is recognizing it among the top 10 global health threats. It’s up there with Ebola and HIV so I think it’s important enough to mention here. 

This is who is at highest risk for communicable diseases. Children, those living in poverty, the elderly and immunosuppressed, and those living in unsanitary conditions. Recognize these from the vulnerable populations lesson?

Some key points. Even though communicable diseases have different origins they are spread from person to person. Reporting the diseases to health agencies creates research and policies to stop disease spread. The herd immunity concept says you can lack immunity, live among an immune population and stay healthy. Vaccine hesitancy is just as big a deal and risky as Ebola and HIV according to WHO. And finally, the vulnerable populations we’ve talked about are at the highest risks for disease transmission.

That’s all for the communicable diseases lesson. Be sure to check out all the available resources attached to this lesson. Now go out and be your best selves today. And as always, Happy Nursing!  

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