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How HIV & AIDS Changed Nursing

December 2nd, 2010 by – Marijke Durning

Nursing has changed drastically over the past few generations, but not all changes are due to technology and progress.

Nurses who graduated before then 1980s can remember what it was like to give patient care in the pre-HIV/AIDS days. Universal precautions, which are now taken for granted in the United States, were not part of nursing practice before 1981. Patients were placed on isolation if they were known to be or suspected to be infectious, but if there was no reason to suspect, no precautions were taken.

Gloves for nursing care were reserved for isolation patients, intimate care or for cleaning body fluids. To wear gloves to give a backrub or take blood just wasn’t done. It was a waste of resources and considered not necessary.

How things have changed. Now nurses have to consider everyone and anyone as being infectious – not just with HIV, but other blood borne disease as well, such as hepatitis C. By treating everyone as infected, nursing staff decrease their risk of being accidently exposed to contaminated fluid.

While these changes have all been necessary to protect the nurses, how have they affected health care, patients and nurses?

When a patient is approached by a nurse who won’t touch him without gloves, this can be demoralizing, especially if you know you don’t have a contagious disease. While it’s understandable that a nurse will wear gloves if giving a bedpan or starting an intravenous, is it necessary to wear them while helping a patient stand up? To help him put on his hospital gown? The human touch has left nursing – there seems to always be a rubber or latex barrier between the nurse and the patient.

Nurses are more frightened now. We’re afraid of catching diseases from our patients, whether the fear is even realistic. Being pricked by a used needle has gone from concerning to frightening. Patients are assumed to be contagious, so a nurse who may have been exposed to body fluids lives with the fear of infection until tests prove otherwise.

Health care costs increase too. While gloves may seem to be a relatively inexpensive item, we now go through so many boxes now that they have become a large part of supply costs.

Yes, nursing has definitely changed.

December 1 was World AIDS Day – an important day to remember. Millions of people are still becoming infected world wide. The disease has not been beaten, only subdued in some parts of the world.

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