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I had TB - I know how my patients feel about the disease

Infection prevention nurse and former TB patient Mel Burden says nurses should improve their understanding of the disease to protect themselves and reassure patients.
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Infection prevention nurse and former TB patient Mel Burden says nurses should improve their understanding of the disease to protect themselves and reassure patients

During 2010-11 I spent 6 months working in a rural South African hospital, where drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) was rife. I was diagnosed with TB 10 months after my return to the UK.

Looking back, I feel there is little I could have done differently in South Africa in terms of infection prevention and control. There was a limited supply of face masks that were used for surgery and very little ventilation in the casualty and ward areas. I was an emergency nurse at the time, so my knowledge of TB, its transmission and treatment was minimal.

Since practising as an infection prevention nurse I have encountered

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Infection prevention nurse and former TB patient Mel Burden says nurses should improve their understanding of the disease to protect themselves and reassure patients  


Mel Burden was working in a South African hospital when she caught tuberculosis. 

During 2010-11 I spent 6 months working in a rural South African hospital, where drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) was rife. I was diagnosed with TB 10 months after my return to the UK.

Looking back, I feel there is little I could have done differently in South Africa in terms of infection prevention and control. There was a limited supply of face masks that were used for surgery and very little ventilation in the casualty and ward areas. I was an emergency nurse at the time, so my knowledge of TB, its transmission and treatment was minimal.

Since practising as an infection prevention nurse I have encountered patients with TB in the UK. I can relate to the way patients feel about the disease and I understand why treatment compliance can be difficult. The medication made me feel worse than the TB itself.

Protection essential 

Prevention is paramount. Too often nurses in clinical areas wear inappropriate breathing protection, or get rid of protective equipment in the wrong way. Many nurses need to be more aware of the symptoms of TB (which can include persistent cough, weight loss and night sweats) and the risks of infection.

A good understanding of the disease means you can communicate better with those who have it. Patients crave reassurance.

My own TB nurse was brilliant with me and helped my recovery. TB is a very isolating disease, filled with guilt and stigma, so the support of someone who shows real compassion and empathy makes a huge difference.

Resources
  • Public Health England's nursing and midwifery directorate is focusing attention on TB on 15 November as part of a Week of Action. The other topics under the spotlight are antimicrobial resistance and immunisation. Blogs throughout the week will appear at https://vivbennett.blog.gov.uk
  • TB Alert has produced a raft of new and updated resources. These can be accessed through Truth about TB
  • All Our Health is a Public Health England-led call to action which aids health and care staff in addressing major factors causing premature death, ill health and inequalities.The TB chapter is at All Our Health 

 


Mel Burden is an infection prevention and control nurse specialist at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital 

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