Isolation of Patients with Infectious Disease
Delays in isolating people with communicable diseases frequently result in an outbreak. However, the timely diagnosis of a disease requiring isolation is mostly a matter of luck. Physicians cannot accurately detect diseases if they are not familiar with the usual symptoms. For example, if there were a new outbreak of measles, the younger doctors might not recognize the symptoms because they have never seen it outside of a textbook. Moreover, many disease carriers display no symptoms, and persons recently infected are going through an incubation period with no indication of being ill. Thus we can only expect doctors and nurses to move infected individuals into isolation as soon as they discover the problem, which could be days or weeks after admission. While you can't always avoid accidental contact with infected persons who have not yet been diagnosed, you will minimize your risks if you simply follow the tips provided in this chapter.
Additionally, certain hospital units house people with suppressed immune systems, such as cancer treatment centers and post-organ transplant floors. Those people are taking drugs that lower their resistance to infection. Also, patients who have very low white blood cell counts from chemotherapy or immunosuppressant drugs must be in reverse isolation because even a common cold virus can be fatal. Therefore, the regulatory and accreditation standards require hospitals to forbid admitting patients with infectious diseases to such units. If you are on such a floor as a patient or visitor, confidentiality rules will prevent you from knowing whether a neighboring patient has an infectious disease. Nonetheless, you can ask the charge nurse every day to assure you that the staff has not breached this life-sustaining policy by placing anyone with an infectious disease on your floor.