Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) operate with a great deal of autonomy. Within medical practices, they see patients on their own and carry out critical tasks such as ordering tests, making diagnoses, developing treatment plans, and prescribing medications. They may hold the top position in retail clinics. In some states, they even have the legal authority to open private practices—and many do, particularly in rural areas where physicians are scarce.
Because of their high degree of independence, FNPs are on the front line—just as much as physicians are, or perhaps even more in some ways—when it comes to identifying and managing patients’ medical problems. Infectious diseases are a particularly pressing concern. A missed diagnosis not only compromises the patient’s health, it also gives disease the opportunity to spread to healthcare providers and other patients. A nurse practitioner in infectious disease therefore bears a heavy responsibility for quickly and correctly spotting the potential for contagion, then taking steps to manage it appropriately.
The skills and training to do this important work can be obtained through academic nursing programs, such as Duquesne University’s Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner MSN. Also offering Post-Master’s Certificate programs to meet the needs of all healthcare providers, Duquesne’s online master’s in nursing provides an MSN curriculum that prepares FNP candidates to successfully handle infectious disease cases and crises.
Infectious Disease on the Rise
Part of the reason the FNP’s role is so critical is that infectious diseases are on the rise. According to an article by the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, 30 new infectious diseases have emerged in the past 20 years.
The most recent example is COVID-19, or coronavirus, which was first reported on Dec. 31, 2019 and has since grown to a “public health emergency of international concern,” in the World Health Organization’s wording.
Meanwhile, known diseases such as Ebola are killing people in unprecedented numbers. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that between 2004 and 2016, diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas have increased threefold.
An upswing in global travel is part of the reason. Today people can leap onto a plane and be on the other side of the world within 24 hours. Knowingly or unknowingly, sick travelers spread infectious agents wherever they go.
The website Industrial Safety & Hygiene News identifies several other reasons for the rising incidence of infectious disease in the United States in particular, including:
- The growing anti-vaxxer movement and a corresponding decline in childhood immunizations.
- An opioid epidemic that has contributed to the rise of hepatitis A, B, and C.
- Global warming that has allowed disease-carrying insects to populate new areas.
- Weakened immune systems from misuse of disinfectants and other lifestyle factors.
- Urbanization, which increases wild animal contact with humans and also puts people into closer proximity with one another, facilitating the spread of disease.
Know the Treatment Options
The most basic aspect of controlling infectious diseases is knowing how to diagnose and treat them. An FNP’s core task is to manage patients’ ailments, so a strong grounding in the causes and treatments of infectious diseases is necessary.
The Mayo Clinic lays out the appropriate treatments for the four main types of infectious diseases:
- Antibiotics are used to treat bacteria-caused diseases. Common bacterial diseases include strep throat, urinary tract infections, syphilis, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis. Less common diseases include tuberculosis, Lyme disease, cholera, and the bubonic plague.
- Drugs have been developed to treat some virus-caused diseases. Common viral diseases for which medications exist include influenza, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and herpes.
- These medications are used to treat diseases caused by fungi, including athlete’s foot, yeast infections, ringworm, and thrush.
- Anti-parasitics. Certain infectious diseases, including malaria, scabies, and toxoplasmosis, are caused by parasites infesting the host’s body. Anti-parasitic drugs kill the parasites to cure the disease.
The medication regimen for some of these conditions is straightforward, but other infections are more complicated, particularly those caused by bacteria. The FNP must choose the best antibiotic from more than 100 currently on the market. Different antibiotics are more effective at targeting certain pathogens, so this choice can have a huge impact on the patient’s prognosis.
Treating infectious diseases is not the FPN’s only responsibility. Containing them correctly so that healthcare workers and other patients are not infected is equally important.
The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing recommends that FPNs follow (and enforce the following of) four key non-pharmacological interventions, or NPIs. They are:
- Spotting potentially contagious patients and isolating them is a vital first step to containing illnesses. This responsibility falls to whichever healthcare workers make first contact with the patient, including but not limited to the FNP assigned to the case. This task is especially critical in the case of an ongoing public emergency, such as the emergence of COVID-19.
- Standard precautions and isolation. Patients suspected of carrying an infectious disease must be isolated immediately, without waiting for tests to confirm the illness. After the patient has been isolated, healthcare workers must follow a series of standard precautions to avoid being infected.
- Personal protective equipment. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, and face masks greatly reduces the chances of contracting an infection, but studies show that compliance is often poor. FNPs must make sure staff understands and follows the rules regarding PPE.
- Hand hygiene. The CDC has established strict rules for when and how healthcare workers should clean their hands. Following these rules is everyone’s responsibility, from the FNP on down.
By understanding the dangers and forms of infectious diseases, their appropriate treatments, and key NPIs, FNPs have the power to stop pathogens in their tracks. They therefore play an essential role in reducing the spread of illness.
About Duquesne University’s Online MSN-FNP and FNP Post-Master’s Certificate Programs
As a leader in online nursing education, Duquesne University has helped RNs and APRNs learn skills, strategies, and evidence-based practices to become FNPs. The coursework is presented entirely online, so students can maintain their careers and personal lives while pursuing their education goals. Graduates are prepared to successfully complete the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCP) and American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Family Nurse Practitioner certification examinations.
For more information, contact Duquesne University today.
FNP duties – Registered Nursing
Need for FNPs to take responsibility – NP Journal
Global rise in infectious diseases – Texas Biomedical Research Institute
COVID-19 – Centers for Disease Control
Rise of infectious diseases in the U.S. – Industrial Safety & Hygiene News
Four types of infectious diseases – Mayo Clinic
Number of available antibiotics – Solv
Non-pharmacological interventions – Online Journal of Issues in Nursing