Imagine you are on a train and the conversation around you is about the seven deadly summer diseases. You eavesdrop because you’re a bit scared you might be exposed to one of them.
You hear the list: Valley Fever, West Nile virus, Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, the plague (yes the plague), foodborne illnesses from unprepared or stored food, rabies, and lastly, leprosy.
You relax your breathing and go back to your reading. Then the conversation changes to Zika. Shouldn’t it be on the list? You find yourself looking up again and becoming engaged with their conversation.
It isn’t that you are fearful of Zika; it is the dichotomy that you are witnessing. There is more opportunity for illness, disease transmission and outbreaks sitting on a train or being in a healthcare setting, than the incidents of Zika … or leprosy, for that matter.
Zika, along with West Nile virus, is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. Emerging information about Zika is indicating that it can be transmitted sexually and there is now one case of nonsexual transmission.
Zika does have ramifications. We know that many people infected with Zika virus may experience mild symptoms including fever and rash. But there are reported incidents of association to Guillain-Barre’ syndrome which is worrisome.
Certainly the most alarming is concern about the virus causing birth defects. That is simply precedent-setting when it comes to disease transmission and impact upon humanity.
What we also know is that wearing clothing that covers exposed areas and insect repellent dramatically decrease the chances of being bitten by an infected mosquito.
The conversation is now elevated with fear and concern about individual safety and transmission of the virus … all because of the random actions of a flying insect and the Russian roulette scenario of being bit by an infected mosquito.
What if we saw our hands as mosquitos flying about touching and transmitting? Would we think differently about our actions and our behaviors?
Here’s what we know so far: In the United States, there are currently more than 1,300 reported cases of Zika virus. Compare that to nearly 2 million healthcare-related infections each year, which researchers say lead to 99,000 deaths and an estimated $20 billion in healthcare costs.
I can’t help but wonder: If we held that same sense of heightened awareness and concern about our hands as we do about the Aedes mosquito, how much of an impact could we all have on disease transmission?
What changes can we make today in our roles in healthcare to change our behaviors and those of our residents and community about something as simple — and highly effective — as hand washing?
Something to ponder.
Martie Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ is the chief nursing officer at Medline Industries Inc. and a corporate advisory council member for the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel.