When the first patients with measles came through the doors of Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Ill., in mid-January, nurses on duty moved quickly to respond to the outbreak.
“For more experienced nurses, who have been working in nursing for a long time, some of us could still identify a measles case in a second because we had that exposure,” said Kimberly Nagy, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, Northwest Community’s executive vice president for patient services and CNO. “But for some of the nurses, particularly the younger ones, measles was something they had seen only in their textbooks.”
In all, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 15 confirmed measles cases in the Chicago area in January and February. While the first confirmed case was an elderly man, most cases treated at local hospitals involved infants under the age of 12 months who attended a child care center in Palatine. Five of the cases were treated at Northwest Community Hospital, said Brigette Bucholz, MPH, CIC, Northwest’s director for patient safety and outcomes.
At Alexian Brothers Health System, which operates St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates and Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, hospital administrators and staff implemented their airborne contagion protocol to both prepare for potential patients and reassure nurses and other staff who would be the first to encounter potentially infected patients, said Carol Pfeifer, MS, RN, APN, director of quality improvement and infection prevention for the Alexian system. She said administrators and supervisors reviewed immunization and immunity records to ensure all nurses and others who would treat such patients were up to date on vaccinations or had demonstrated an immunity to measles.
“This was an opportunity for some more education on early recognition,” Pfeifer said. “A way of reasserting that, if there’s a rash and a fever, then mask and isolate.”
At Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, Chris Silkaitis, MT, CIC, manager of healthcare epidemiology and infection prevention for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, said those hospitals took similar steps to prepare for potential measles cases. While none were treated at those hospitals, Silkaitis said there is a heightened awareness for measles, prompting a heightened response from many to cases of diseases with measles-like symptoms, such as chickenpox and shingles.
“Of course, now every patient who has a rash, we’re going to take precautions,” Silkaitis said. “We’re making sure our staff is empowered to respond to this.”
Bucholz agreed. “Measles is on everybody’s radar screen now,” she said.
Of the five hospitals, only the Alexian Brothers system also moved to restrict visitation from children as part of its response to the measles outbreak. However, representatives of all the hospitals said they continue to encourage patients and residents in their communities to be vaccinated. “This is an opportunity to get the facts out there, and really educate on just how important that (vaccination) is,” Silkaitis said.
Nurses had some anxiety about the recent measles outbreak, but nothing compared to the fears accompanying the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which resulted in several cases of the lethal virus in the U.S. in 2014.
“Preparing for this (measles outbreak) was very different in almost every respect from Ebola training,” Pfeifer said.
That sentiment was echoed by Susan Swart, MS, RN, CAE, executive director of the American Nurses Association of Illinois.
“With this (measles outbreak), I’ve heard almost nothing from my members,” Swart said. “With Ebola? My phone never stopped ringing. This is just very, very different.”
Jonathan Bilyk is a freelance writer.