How Nurses Can Help Prevent the Spread of Infectious Diseases

Vaccination has reduced the occurrence of infectious disease, saving millions of lives and preventing illness and lifelong disability in millions more. Infectious diseases that are now preventable by vaccines often resulted in hospitalization, death or lifelong health problems just a few decades ago.
According to the United States Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion website, approximately 42,000 adults and 300 children in the U.S. die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Vaccines are among the most cost-effective clinical preventive services, which is why childhood immunization programs tend to have good return on investment. For every newborn who is vaccinated with the routine immunization schedule:

  • 33,000 lives are saved
  • 14 million cases of disease are prevented
  • Direct health care costs are reduced by $9.9 billion
  • $33.4 billion is saved in indirect costs

Healthcare providers play a vital role when it comes to educating patients on preventative care. Nurses can work to educate patients about existing infectious diseases and the routine vaccinations that are used to keep them from spreading.

Immunization is one of the most effective ways for people to protect themselves from infectious diseases. The following are five benefits nurses can share with patients to encourage them to stay up to date with routine vaccinations.

Immunizations Save Lives 

Because of advances in medical science, children and adults can be protected from some infectious diseases. Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of people have been eliminated completely or are close to extinction.

This is primarily due to safe and effective vaccines, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For example, polio was once America’s most-feared disease, causing death and paralysis across the country, but thanks to vaccination, there have been no recent reports of polio in the U.S.

Vaccination is Safe and Effective 

Before vaccines are made available to patients, they undergo a long and careful review by scientists, physicians and other healthcare professionals. Getting vaccinated will involve some discomfort and may cause pain, redness or tenderness at the site of injection, but this is minimal compared to the pain and discomfort that can be caused by the diseases these vaccines prevent.

Serious side effects that can sometimes be caused by vaccination, like an allergic reaction, are very rare.

Immunization Can Protect Others 

People in the U.S. still get vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, there has been a resurgence of measles and whooping cough over the past few years.

Since 2010 there have been between 10,000 and 50,000 cases of whooping cough each year in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this has caused around 10-20 babies, many of whom were too young to be vaccinated, to die each year.

While some babies are too young to be vaccinated, there are others that can’t receive vaccinations because of severe allergies, or weakened immune systems because of conditions like leukemia.

To keep people safe, it is important that those who can be vaccinated are fully immunized. This helps to protect the patient, but also helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases to friends or loved ones.

Immunizations Can Save Time and Money 

Some vaccine-preventable diseases can cause prolonged disabilities, which can take a toll financially because of lost time at work, medical bills or long-term disability care. This is why getting vaccinated is a good investment.

Routine vaccinations are also typically covered by insurance. In addition, there is a federally funded program known as the Vaccines for Children program, which provides vaccines at no cost to children who come from low-income families.

Immunizations Protect Future Generations 

Because of vaccinations, specific infectious diseases that killed or severely disabled people in past generations have been reduced, and in some cases, eliminated. For example, the smallpox vaccine essentially eradicated the disease worldwide.

Today’s children no longer need to get the smallpox vaccine, as the disease no longer exists in a natural form and was declared eradicated in 1980 by the World Health Organization. Continuing to vaccinate now means that parents in the future may be able to trust that today’s infectious diseases will no longer be around to harm their children.

Role of Nurses in Treatment and Prevention 

Infectious disease unit nurses play a key role in preventing the spread of infectious diseases through patient education and treatment. When it comes to patients’ fears about vaccinations, nurses can refute myths and other misinformation, while also advocating the benefits of a vaccinated population.

For example, if the population is mostly protected, even those who can’t be vaccinated are less likely to contract an infectious disease.

Vaccines stimulate the immune system to identify and destroy harmful microorganisms. Polio, measles, whooping cough and some types of meningitis are all formerly widespread diseases that have been controlled or reduced through vaccine use.

If a patient already has an infectious disease, nurses can ensure they are using antibiotics correctly, which can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases at a macro level. Patients may be unaware that misusing antibiotics can trigger bacteria to develop resistance. This is why nurses should educate patients to follow the full treatment plan, even after symptoms abate, to ensure the disease is entirely cured.

Nurses can also help prevent the spread of infectious diseases by following practices that support infection control, like safe sanitation and encouraging patients to live a healthy lifestyle.


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