MERS: Where Are We Now and What Do Nurses Need to Know?

June 15, 2015
WHO map of MERS cases by country

WHO map of MERS cases by country. Click to enlarge.

By Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, AJN clinical editor

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) first emerged in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. Until last month, most MERS cases have occurred in that country. But on May 20, South Korea reported its first laboratory-confirmed case of MERS, in a 68-year-old man who had recently returned from a business trip to the Middle East.

The diagnosis was made only after the man had visited four health care facilities since his return home. This resulted in nosocomial transmission to other patients, health care workers, and visitors. To date, the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Health has identified 108 cases of MERS in South Korea. Nine patients (all with serious preexisting health conditions) have died.

The WHO notes that all of these cases are epidemiologically linked to the index case. That is, there is no evidence that a new “reservoir” of MERS virus has suddenly surfaced in South Korea—all cases thus far stem from the Korean traveler who acquired his infection while visiting the Arabian Peninsula.

This is the largest outbreak of MERS so far outside of the Middle East, and therefore a reason for some concern. However, person-to-person transmission of MERS is not new, and there has as yet been no sustained community transmission in South Korea or elsewhere. Readers may recall that two U.S. hospitals safely diagnosed and managed patients with MERS during the spring of 2014. These two unrelated cases in the U.S. were imported via health care providers who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia. The patients were isolated and successfully treated at Community Hospital in Munster, Indiana, and Dr. P. Phillips Hospital in Orlando, Florida, and there was no further transmission of the virus.

In response to the South Korean outbreak, the CDC has updated its case definition for “patients under investigation” to include a history of having been in a health care facility (as patient, worker, or visitor) in South Korea within 14 days of symptom onset. Read the rest of this entry »


A Case of Early PEG Tube Dislodgment—What Can We Learn?

June 12, 2015

By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Figure 2. A PEG tube (or G-tube) is inserted through the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and abdominal wall into the stomach. Illustration courtesy of the StayWell Company, Yardley, PA.

A PEG tube (or G-tube) is inserted through the skin, subcutaneous tissue, and abdominal wall into the stomach. Illustration courtesy of the StayWell Company, Yardley, PA.

Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tubes are widely regarded as “one of the most useful” means of delivering enteral nutrition—but when things go wrong, the results can be devastating.

Consider the following case, presented in one of June’s CE features, “Early Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy Tube Dislodgment”: Mr. J. B., a man in his fifties, was involved in a motor vehicle accident and developed an extending, chronic subdural hematoma. After undergoing an emergency craniotomy, he suffered neurologic deterioration and respiratory failure. Treatment included the placement of a PEG tube for nutritional support, but when Mr. B. later became confused and agitated, he forcibly dislodged the tube. The bedside nurse “inserted a Foley catheter to replace the PEG tube, drew an air bubble out of the catheter to confirm gastric placement, noted this, and then reported the event to the facility’s attending physician, who acknowledged and approved the action.” No further confirmatory testing was done.

But the tip of the tube was in the wrong place, emptying into Mr. B.’s peritoneum rather than his stomach. By the time the error was discovered, sepsis had set in. Despite numerous measures to address this, the patient developed peritonitis and died soon afterward. Read the rest of this entry »


Family Caregivers Increasing in Age, Numbers: How Can Nurses Help?

June 10, 2015

By Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, AJN editor-in-chief

AJNFamilyCaregiverSupplementLast week, a new report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP detailed the landscape of family caregiving in the United States. The majority (60%) of caregivers remain female (40% are men, a percentage that continues to rise). They average 49 years of age. In most cases, they are caring for a relative (typically, a 69-year-old female). On average, the caregiver spends 24 hours each week helping with daily activities and has been doing so for four years; one-third of caregivers still maintain a full-time job.

An estimated 34.2 million adults provided unpaid care to an adult 50 years or older in the previous 12 months; nearly one in 10 caregivers is 75 years or older—a typical example given in the report was a 79-year-old female caring for a 77-year-old spouse with Alzheimer’s disease, aging issues, or heart disease. Half of caregivers were thrust into caregiving and felt that they had no choice about taking on the responsibility of a loved one’s care; 22% of caregivers feel that their own health has suffered.

To raise awareness of their needs, in recent years AARP has championed the plight of family caregivers, collaborating with government and consumer organizations, and health care professionals. AJN, too, has worked with AARP on several projects to provide nurses with information to support family caregivers, as noted below.

The needs of family caregivers will only increase, according to the data on aging in a report from the U.S. Administration on Aging, A Profile of Older Americans: 2014. According to this report, “The 85+ population is projected to triple from 6 million in 2013 to 14.6 million in 2040.”

This means more people in the “oldest old” category—the group that typically needs assistance with daily living.

We’d like to offer some resources from AJN to help nurses support family caregivers, who often get overlooked by health care professionals and are unprepared for all the caregiving tasks they may need to do (see, for example, Carol Levine’s guest editorial in our September 2008 issue, which details her personal experiences and eloquently describes the problems caregivers often face). Read the rest of this entry »


A Program of Mindfulness Practice for Nurses at a Boston Cancer Center

June 8, 2015

By Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

The Thea and James Stoneman Healing Garden at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a source of tranquility and relaxation for nurses, patients, and families. Photo by Sam Ogden, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The Thea and James Stoneman Healing Garden at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is a source of tranquility and relaxation for nurses, patients, and families. Photo by Sam Ogden, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Maybe you already practice some version of meditation or mindfulness in your daily life. If not, you may at least have read or watched a news story recently about mindfulness and its various uses with or by everyone from elementary school students to professional athletes to drug addicts in recovery to CEOs looking to improve their focus, as well as many of the rest of us.

Or maybe you saw the final episode of the television series Mad Men a few weeks ago, with the advertising man Don Draper sitting cross-legged at a California coastal retreat, deep in meditation.

Some critics of a few of the more profit-driven uses of mindfulness practice have been at pains to remind us to at least keep in mind that such practices are often derived from ancient traditions that also espouse less materialistic values, such as compassion, generosity, selflessness, openness.

Whatever the origins of such practices, many people are finding out for themselves that life may seem a little more sensible and meaningful if they regularly stop to cultivate certain kinds of attention, even for just a few minutes at a time. The Cultivating Quality article in the June issue of AJN, “Cultivating Mindfulness to Enhance Nursing Practice,” describes a pilot program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston that seems an excellent use of mindfulness practice. Here are the opening paragraphs:

In today’s fast-paced health care environment, nurses often find it difficult to be truly present for patients. Constantly on the go, nurses are continually adjusting and balancing priorities, while call lights, upcoming tasks, and patients’ needs compete for their attention. The hectic pace and nurses’ attempts to multitask make it difficult for them to focus deeply on their patients, contributing to nurses’ work-related stress and risk of burnout.

Mindfulness-based practices, such as meditation, breathing, and visualization techniques, and mindful movement, including walking, yoga, and tai chi, have been growing in popularity as complementary treatments for many health conditions. While research on mindfulness-based or contemplative practices is still in its infancy, and much of it has focused on short-term practice and outcomes, there is compelling evidence that health care providers can use mindfulness-based practices to reduce their stress and to improve provider–patient communication and outcomes.

In 2011, we and other nurse leaders at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), a comprehensive cancer center in Boston, took stock of the challenges nurses face in the work environment and committed to introducing a multifaceted mindfulness program for clinical nurses and other members of the nursing and patient care services team. We believed mindfulness could be useful in helping nurses and other employees manage stress and reclaim opportunities to more fully connect with patients and families. In this article, we discuss the DFCI mindfulness program and its outcomes, and describe how nurses in all settings can use mindfulness-based techniques to enhance their well-being and the care of patients.

Read the rest of this entry »


A Nurse Epidemiologist’s Notes on Issues Raised by a Recent Death from Lassa Fever

June 5, 2015

By Betsy Todd, MPH, RN, CIC, AJN clinical editor

Lassa fever is most often diagnosed by using enzyme-linked immunosorbent serologic assays (ELISA), which detect IgM and IgG antibodies as well as Lassa antigen. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) can be used in the early stage of disease. The virus itself may be cultured in 7 to 10 days, but this procedure should only be done in a high containment laboratory with good laboratory practices. Immunohistochemistry, performed on formalin-fixed tissue specimens, can be used to make a post-mortem diagnosis.

Some aspects of last month’s case of Lassa fever in New Jersey seemed to parallel the story of Thomas Duncan, who died last October in Dallas after contracting Ebola virus disease in Liberia.

A man arrived in the U.S. from Western Africa. He was screened for Ebola at the airport and instructed to monitor his temperature for 21 days. The next day, he developed a fever. Instead of calling the county health department, he headed to a hospital. He reportedly didn’t mention his travel history to staff, and was sent home on antibiotics. His condition worsened, and three days later he returned to the ED. When clinicians learned that he had recently arrived from Liberia, he was isolated, admitted, and tested for Ebola and Lassa. Positive for Lassa fever, he died soon afterwards.

Like Ebola, Lassa is a zoonotic hemorrhagic fever endemic to Western Africa. As with Ebola, the early symptoms of Lassa fever are nonspecific: fever, headache, malaise, nausea, vomiting . . .

But here the similarities end. Unlike Ebola, 80% of Lassa fever cases are mild or asymptomatic, and the overall case fatality rate is just 1%. (The risk of dying rises to 15%–20% if the disease progresses and requires hospitalization.) The most common complication of Lassa fever is deafness—one-third of those infected experience some degree of hearing loss—which occurs in both mild as well as severe cases.

Missed opportunities? This recent and upsetting story once again highlights the limitations of communicable disease follow-up based on self-monitoring and accurate individual reporting. Airport temperature screening of passengers arriving from certain geographical areas (which appears to be of questionable value) is supposed to result in the isolation and testing of anyone with a fever. But the vast majority of disembarking passengers are afebrile. They are instructed to monitor their temperature for a prescribed period of time (depending upon the disease of concern), and to call their local health department if they develop symptoms.

There are, of course, many holes in this surveillance “safety net.” Passengers may not reveal their connection to an epidemic area because of fear of reprisal, denial of their own at-risk status, or language-related misunderstandings at the point of screening. They may or may not subsequently monitor their health. When fever develops and becomes undeniable, they may not know how to contact their local health department, or if they do call, may quickly become impatient if met with a busy signal or no answer. Panic about what symptoms might mean will cause some people to run to the nearest ED for medical care; health department notification is not a high priority when you think you’re fighting for your life. Read the rest of this entry »


Nurses Aren’t Just Healers, They’re Teachers Too: A Patient’s View

June 3, 2015
Illustration by Jennifer Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Illustration by Jennifer Rodgers. All rights reserved.

A teeny red bump had mysteriously appeared on my left index finger. It hurt when I pressed on it. I figured it was nothing. . . .

That’s the start of the June Reflections essay in AJN, “Ms. Lisa and Ms. MRSA,” a patient experience narrative by freelance writer Shannon Harris. As luck would have it, the bump on her finger, it turns out, is not nothing. It’s MRSA.

The diagnosis takes a while. Finally the situation worsens, and surgery is needed. The author takes it all in stride, at least in retrospect:

The third physician stood out to me most. He asked to take a picture of my green and black, staph-infected finger with his iPhone. “Sure. Look at it! I thought this only happened to pirates,” I told him as he snapped away. He glanced at the young, button-nosed nurse standing beside him. “Don’t you want a picture? For your records?” he asked.

She shook her head, squinting and gritting her teeth. “I know. Yuck,” I said. I later shared photos of my infection journey online, to the great wonder and disgust of my friends and family. Before that, though, came surgery.

The author’s tone is light, but the situation is a scary one for any patient. Read the rest of this entry »


AJN in June: Gastrostomy Complications, Nursing and Mindfulness, Cultural Competence, More

June 1, 2015

01AJN0615 CoverAccording to one of the authors of “Cultivating Mindfulness to Enhance Nursing Practice,” the Cultivating Quality article now available in our June issue, mindfulness can be understood as a practice centered around “remembering to pay attention with care and discernment to what is occurring in your immediate experience.” On the cover of our June issue (left), nurses at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston practice mindfulness in a spacious garden, as part of a multifaceted program to help nurses manage stress and make the best of opportunities to more fully connect with patients and families. The article discusses the outcome of the program and how nurses in all settings can use mindfulness-based techniques to enhance their well-being and the care of patients.

Also in the June issue, a continuing education (CE) feature article, “Early Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy Tube Dislodgment,” describes the details of a case study of early percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy tube dislodgment, attempted replacement, and subsequent sepsis that resulted in the patient’s death. This case is used to better inform nurses about gastrostomy techniques, complications, preventive strategies, and proper tube management. Read the rest of this entry »


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