Infectious diseases are always on the move, and can strike at any time. After the Ebola outbreak of 2014, the World Health Organization creates and circulates a list of infectious diseases that could cause huge problems every year. This year the list contains many diseases that have been seen before, from MERS and SARS to zika, HIV to hepatitis C.
Experts say the increase of these infectious diseases comes from several factors; demographic, technological, environmental, and social changes in living are all factors. Climate change is also seriously involved with the growth and spread of diseases.
Pandemic and epidemic diseases.
What is the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?
Pandemics, endemics, and epidemics are all common phrases used when talking about the spread of infectious diseases. But they are not interchangeable.
An endemic exists within a specific region or population, like Typhoid fever being an ongoing concern in parts of Asia.
An epidemic describes an outbreak that happens at the same time, and grows larger than expected. For example, a flu epidemic can pop up when many people in a city, state, or country all get the same sickness within the same time frame.
A pandemic is a disease that is spread worldwide. HIV is one example of the most deadly pandemics in history.
Drug resistant bacteria.
While the number of infectious diseases grows, medicine may be failing us. Experts say that a global health crisis could be in the future, as many drugs that once treated diseases are losing their edge. Tuberculosis, malaria, and gonorrhea are just a few of the diseases that are fighting back and developing resistance to drugs. The microbes are able to adapt and work around the drugs that are being used to kill them. As the diseases adapt and mutate, they become even more deadly. Diseases that have not yet been completely eradicated run the risk of coming back with a vengeance as they adapt and grow stronger. And it’s unclear if science will be able to keep up and create the drugs needed to combat these deadly diseases.
Countries like India are seeing a complete resistance to all tuberculosis drugs, Cambodia has seen instances of malaria drugs failing to work on patients, and even Staph infections which are picked up in hospitals have adapted and are becoming resistant to treatment.
Zoonotic diseases are diseases that are transferred from animals to people. Experts say that climate change is likely a large factor in the increase and spread of these diseases. Commonly known zoonotic diseases include bird flu, Ebola, dengue fever, Lyme disease, malaria, rabies, swine flu, and many others.
Zoonotic diseases are spread in a variety of ways:
Direct contact. Coming into direct contact with salvia, blood, urine, or other bodily fluids of an animal can spread diseases. This can happen by getting bitten or scratched by an animal, or even by petting or touching an animal.
Indirect contact. This happens when humans come into contact with areas where animals live, or objects that have been contaminated. This happens commonly with aquarium tank water, pet habitats, chicken coops, water dishes, and more.
Vector-borne. This happens by being bitten by an insect like a mosquito or flea, or a tick. Not every bug bite will result in an infectious disease, but many of these bites do result in a disease.
Foodborne. Each year, 1 in 6 Americans will get sick from eating contaminated food. Things like undercooked meat and eggs, raw produce that has been contaminated, and unpasteurized milk all present risks.
The best defenses against zoonotic diseases include washing your hands, washing your food and cooking it properly, wearing bug spray, and being aware of your surroundings.
Containing existing outbreaks.
US and world-wide health organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are working to contain existing disease outbreaks like Zika, Ebola, and the avian flu. Their top defense is to stop these diseases from spreading by giving instructions to people traveling to those countries, and working to treat infected people. Prevention for these diseases with a vaccine doesn’t really exist, and researchers are working to develop a medicine that can help. There are Zika and Ebola warnings in the countries where these diseases are present, and traveling to these countries does carry a risk. There is hope that the medical community will have a breakthrough soon and be able to eradicate these diseases.
Role of healthcare workers.
Prevention of epidemics.
There is a need for more qualified healthcare workers to help prevent and treat epidemics. Prevention comes in the form of education and vaccinations, particularly done by nurses in the field. Communicating to patients, especially parents of younger patients, about the benefits of vaccinations, the precautions that can be taken, and the signs to watch for can help prevent the spread and devastation of some of these diseases. When patients understand what to do to prevent these diseases, and how to watch out for them, they are much less likely to get sick. Qualified healthcare workers are vital to educate the public about the medical facts that they need to be able to prevent spreading diseases and causing epidemics.
Treatment of epidemics.
Currently epidemics are treated with warnings of what to watch out for to stop spreading, and some medicine is usually involved. Healthcare workers are needed to ensure there are plenty of people prepared to treat these epidemics. When more people than normal are sick, clinics and hospitals are flooded, and more qualified healthcare workers are needed to be prepared. The more healthcare professionals there are, the better chances we have of developing and administering treatments and stopping infectious diseases from taking so many lives.
If you’ve considered becoming a nurse so you can help in these emergency situations, WGU is the perfect fit for you. Get your nursing degree quickly so you can be better qualified to help prevent and treat epidemics.