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General

Nurse Assistants and Communicable Diseases

Working in the medical field with high exposure to communicable diseases it is essential that nurse assistants know what to expect, how to deal with whatever situation might arise, and proper reporting of suspected communicable diseases to minimize spread and ensure diseases are quickly controlled. Nurse assistants can often be considered on the front line of fighting communicable disease due to their higher than normal exposure to patients.

Any disease that can transfer from person to person is communicable, with the most familiar types being the common cold and influenza though they are certainly not the only common spreadable diseases. In extreme cases it is also known that some diseases can cross the species boundary from animals to humans, two of the most well known being rabies and certain strands of avian flu.

Most of us will be familiar with communicable diseases such as chicken pox, smallpox, measles, mumps, diphtheria, malaria, gonorrhea, rubella, shingles, hepatitis, herpes, syphilis, hookworm, strep throat, or tinea. Almost all of these diseases can be controlled and the effects against patients minimized or cured. As a certified nurse assistant it is your job to understand how these diseases spread and to be part of the solution that treats them and not another carrier as can happen all too easily if protocols aren’t followed.

Communicable diseases spread through a number of techniques including by physical contact, bites and scratches, the sharing of bodily fluids, breathing contaminated air, blood transfusions, or through touch with contaminated surfaces. It is the responsibility of the nurse assistant to be aware of these and actively work to prevent their spread, either by adopting standard protocols or reporting suspected cases to other medical personnel.

The simplest procedures are in most cases sufficient to stop the spread of communicable diseases, such as washing hands with hot water and soap, making sure that surfaces are regularly cleaned with anti-bacterial agents, ensuring that those with highly infectious influenzas are quarantined and staff wear masks to avoid breathing in airborne pathogens.

Immediately inform supervisory staff and management of any suspected communicable disease even the common cold present in a patient or colleague. Hospitals contain concentrations of people with weakened immunity systems that don’t exist in society generally, and controlling communicable disease so that it doesn’t reach those who are most vulnerable is part of your role. Remember too that nurse assistants typically spend more time with patients than other staff in the hospital and your vigilance is essential.

During the STNA course you will be required to learn about basic protocols for the control of communicable disease, and this will be a component part of the clinical exam, though the responsible nurse assistant will know that the STNA course is not, nor should it be considered, an exhaustive training program on dealing with communicable disease. This means there will be more to learn within the workplace, protocols to be followed, and responsibilities to take on board. Maintaining a clean and sanitary environment for patient care is important, and the nurse assistant is part of the front line team.

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