On the hit television show “The Walking Dead,” the human race is plagued by a zombie outbreak. The survivors find out that there is no cure, and that everyone they know will eventually turn into a Walker. While a zombie outbreak is more of a novelty in real life, The Walking Dead examines what happens when the world succumbs to a fictional pandemic. If real, could a zombie-like epidemic be contained?
Real World Implications
While The Walking Dead is a fictional scenario, it expands on a very real possibility and a major concern for nurses today. Although symptoms are not as extreme, a fictional zombie pandemic is not too far from real life; outbreaks of Zika, Ebola, and other serious contagions which can cause panic and widespread fear in both the hospital and the community at large.
Nurses are already at ground zero when it comes to viral outbreaks; you don’t need to encounter a super virus or enhanced bug to get ill from your job. You also don’t need to see a human morph into a zombie before getting concerned about the spread of germs.
A proactive approach designed to prevent the spread of disease can slow or even stop a potentially nightmarish outbreak scenario. Best hygiene practices, including proper hand washing, instrument sterilization and prompt attention to patients with easily communicable illnesses can help prevent outbreaks. To prevent the risk of a real-world outbreak, nurses and healthcare providers can:
Encourage Good Facility Hygiene: Providers that properly wash hands are just the beginning; reminding everyone who visits your facility to wash their hands before and after treatment can help halt the spread of disease. Verbal reminders and signage can help reinforce the safety message and halt the spread of disease.
Encourage vaccination: Even nurses in other facilities or office settings can help prevent the spread of disease, simply by encouraging vaccination and well care.
Education: Patient education can also help halt the spread of illness; a patient population who understands what to look for in a specific condition like Whooping Cough may seek out treatment earlier, preventing the spread of infection. Patient education can also help halt the spread of disease and improve vaccination rates in at-risk populations.
Population Health Data Analysis: By tracking outbreaks in specific populations or even geographic locations, providers like nurses can take a proactive stance against outbreak and provide information and preventative, proactive steps for those most at risk.
Organizations that take a proactive stance against outbreaks are more likely to avoid a nightmarish apocalyptic scenario. Instead of scrambling to respond to an outbreak, a prepared facility can mitigate risk and halt the spread of disease by incorporating proactive benchmark cleaning and hygiene practices right into their structure and routines.
Even the architecture and design of the healthcare facility plays a role in outbreak prevention. Hospitals that follow ventilation best practices and that avoid materials that can harbor germs are less likely to experience an outbreak while enforcing and facilitating waste and sharp disposal policies can help mitigate risk as well.
Preventing Personal Illness
If you are on the front lines of a major outbreak or simply working against one in your community, you are at an increased risk. Spending time treating patients impacted by an illness obviously increases your exposure and chance of getting sick. The World Health Organization recommends a more intensive and specific hand washing protocol for providers treating sick patients. Keep in mind that hand washing needs to be at least 20 seconds long, with soap, to effectively kill germs. Nurses should thoroughly wash hands after any of the following events or interactions:
- Before you touch a patient, to protect the patient from any germs you are carrying
- Before procedures, to protect the patient from germs, including yours, environmental germs, and their germs
- After body fluid risk or exposure, to protect yourself and others from the patient’s germs
- After touching a patient, to protect yourself and others from the patient’s germs
- After touching the patient’s belongings, surroundings or surfaces they touched, to protect yourself and others from the patient’s germs
In addition to the personal hand washing outlined above, any surfaces the patients or other care providers touched need to be washed or wiped and disinfected. Nurses who can rapidly assess and identify suspicious symptoms can also help halt the spread of disease. Once an individual is identified, isolation protocols and protective patient care equipment can help halt the spread of disease.
Nurses and healthcare providers that take a proactive approach to their health, with up to date vaccinations and a focus on personal wellness, are less likely to become ill. Being aware of the risk and taking steps to avoid both personal infections and to halt the spread of germs between patients can help you avoid a full blown outbreak.
The Walking Dead is fiction, but in a healthcare setting, you can never be too careful. Nurses that remain vigilant and that are aware of the potential for outbreaks can help prevent a nightmare scenario from occurring.