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Current Health News : How Triage Nurses Can Help Patients Through Foodborne Illness
Every few months there is an alert about a foodborne illness from a restaurant or grocery store in the news. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated food each year and more than 1,000 outbreaks are reported. When there is an outbreak in a community, patients will be worried how they will be affected and will call a triage nurse line with calls ranging from general information questions to patients who ingested the contaminated food and have questions or symptoms. Nurses can use myTriageChecklist™ in conjunction with the Gold Standard Protocols from Schmitt-Thompson in order to evaluate the seriousness of a caller’s condition based on the symptoms.
In the News
According to Virginia health officials, several recent cases of hepatitis A may have been caused by frozen strawberries from the restaurant chain Tropical Smoothie Café. The Virginia Health Department (VHD) is testing frozen strawberries from Egypt used at the popular chain and say that consumers who had smoothies containing strawberries from Tropical Smoothie Café on August 5 through 8th may be at risk. The VHD is also encouraging anyone who consumed a smoothie with frozen strawberries at a restaurant within the last 50 days to watch for symptoms of hepatitis A. These individuals may benefit from a vaccine or immune globulin to prevent hepatitis A. Health officials said that if the vaccine or immune globulin is given within two weeks of exposure to hepatitis A it is most effective at preventing the disease.
Hepatitis A is a viral disease that affects the liver. The virus can be transmitted through eating contaminated food and water or through direct contact with an infectious person. The disease is most often associated with inadequate sanitation and poor personal hygiene.
There are 96 Tropical Smoothie Café locations throughout Virginia, according to the chain’s website. Their website has a complete list of stores that may have sold contaminated smoothies. The CEO has said that they stopped using strawberries from Egypt at all of its stores, including those outside Virginia, after learning about the potential issue.
Helping the Patient
When a patient who is potentially affected calls, it is important for the triage nurse to remain calm and not create more anxiety or panic in them. The nurse should obtain a thorough medical history from the patient and ask for current symptoms, including :
- What are the symptoms?
- Who has the symptoms?
- When did they start?
- When were they exposed to the potentially contaminated food?
Symptoms for hepatitis A can range from very mild to severe, and can include : jaundice, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine or light-colored stools. Not everyone infected will have all of these symptoms. While most patients will have mild or no symptoms, the elderly, and those with many chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems may need to be evaluated sooner by a physician.
Patient education and reassurance is important. The triage nurse should share basic information with their patient, such as symptoms, incubation, recovery and home care. Hepatitis A needs to be diagnosed by a specific blood test. The incubation period is 14-28 days. Recovery may take several weeks to several months and therapy is aimed at keeping the patient comfortable. Eating a balanced diet and replacing fluids lost from vomiting or diarrhea are important tips the patient needs to know. The patient should be advised to avoid acetaminophen and other medications that are metabolized by the liver.
Most people recover fully from hepatitis A. It rarely causes chronic liver disease and is rarely fatal. The vaccine is available to anyone and is recommended for children, world travelers, and for people at high risk of infection.
Preventing Foodborne Illness : Tips for Patients
- Wash hands, surfaces, and utensils often while preparing food.
- Scrub fruits and vegetables under running water.
- Separate raw meat from other foods and use separate utensils.
- Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly.
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
When outbreaks like these occur, triage nurses need to be aware of what to ask for and how to assist the patient. Using the industry standard Schmitt-Thompson protocols, nurses are equipped with the comprehensive tools needed to give targeted advice based on the symptoms and disposition of the caller and potentially help in slowing or stopping the epidemic.