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In this lesson, we’ll take a look at stages of infection.
When we look at illness or infection, we have to recognize that it happens in stages. It basically goes along this continual timeline moving forward. It’s not just, you’re exposed, then sick, then everything is cool. By understanding the stages, you can better make predictions as to what can happen with your patient.
If we think about it this way, it actually helps you to make predictions. For instance, if you have a patient in the hospital who’s just starting to show symptoms of hospital acquired pneumonia, you can anticipate providing lots of respiratory care.
The other thing to think about is that sometimes you can get to one stage and regress, which we’ll talk about later.
So let’s get started.
The incubation stage is basically the very first exposure. This is from the first opportunity that exposure happens until a generalized first symptom shows up.
Let’s use strep throat as an example, seeing as both of my kiddos have it right now, and I had it a ton as a kid, so I’m a pro when it comes to strep! The incubation period is 2-5 days for strep. So if a patient was exposed on, let’s say Saturday, then they might start to feel generally ill on maybe Monday through Wednesday.
Incubation is from the first time of exposure until general symptoms start to show up.
After those first general symptoms show up, then you’ll get more specific symptoms. This is the prodromal stage. So this is the time from “general” symptoms to more specific. For the incubation stage, the patient with strep might complain of being tired, or headache, and maybe a low grade fever.
Now during this stage, this is where rapid multiplication of the bacteria or virus occurs. For our strep patient, this is when they’ll start to have a sore throat, a solid fever that requires maybe ibuprofen or tylenol, maybe a decreased appetite…things that look “more” like a specific illness. Depending on the illness, this stage may be pretty short as well.
In the illness stage, this is full blown sickness. This is the time period from the generalized symptoms or symptoms that “may be” something typically become classic textbook symptoms.
Let’s go back to the strep patient. This patient is going to have painful sore throat and dysphagia, swollen lymph nodes, fever, malaise, aching, body chills. Your classic textbook symptoms.
This would be the time your patient also heads to the doctor for the good ole’ throat swab, strep test and antibiotics.
Now that the patient is in full blown illness and is being treated, the convalescence stage is the come-down stage. This is the time when the patient is taking medication for treatment and should be improving daily. This is when the symptoms are going to begin to resolve.
Depending on the illness, this may take days, months or years. For the strep patient, usually after 2 or 3 days of antibiotics, they should definitely be on the upswing.
Now here’s an important part to remember, which is where you come in as the nurse. You have to explain to your patients the important of completing therapy. If a patient doesn’t complete their antibiotics, they can fall back into the illness stage. So it’s super important that you stress this part. Just because the patient is in the convalescence stage doesn’t mean they can bounce back. Sometimes the antibiotics aren’t the right ones either. It can swing both ways, even if they are feeling better. So just make sure they stay compliant.
Understanding how the infections stages influences our care helps to understand our nursing concepts better. Today, we focused on safety by prioritizing what may happen with our patient and also focusing on infection control.
Ok, so let’s recap.
Incubation is when the patient is first exposed to the FIRST general symptom. It can be anything, but it’s just a general symptom.
The prodromal stage is when the symptoms get more specific. This is where the bacteria or virus rapidly multiply.
The illness stage is where you’re going to have your classic textbook symptoms.
Convalescence is where your symptoms start to subside. This can be days, weeks or months. Also, your patient can go back the other way if they don’t adhere to treatment or are compliant with meds.
And that’s our lesson on the stages of infection. Make sure you check out all the resources attached to this lesson. Now, go out and be your best selves today. And, as always, happy nursing!!