Nurses are well-placed to help people understand bacteria, infectious diseases and immunology. Not only do they have direct contact with the public, but they are highly trusted.
Ber Oomen, Executive Director of the European Specialist Nurses Organisation (ESNO), says nurses can help people to make sense of conflicting messages they see on social media. On the one hand, he says, immunisation advocates sometimes focus too strongly on worst-case scenarios, while anti-vaccine groups offer alternative explanations for biological phenomena that risk spreading misconception.
In the face of these conflicting views, the public can suffer ‘disaster fatigue’, he says. To help nurses to make sense of it all, it would be wise to focus on overall understanding of microorganisms. ‘Our health depends on the balance between good and bad bacteria in the body, and exposure to bacteria in the environment,’ says Oomen. ‘We need to understand where bacteria are out of balance and can have a negative impact and how to address this.’
This would lead to an enhanced appreciation of how bacteria adapt and spread, he adds: ‘By understanding the dynamics of good bugs, we can better understand the bad ones.’
When it comes to communicating with the public about this topics, health professionals also need better ‘marketing’ skills and a deeper appreciation of how to reach different types of people.
‘For our part, ESNO is developing a multi-layers Guide to Microorganisms for nurses in Europe, focusing on AMR and vaccines,’ according to Oomen. ‘We want it to attractive and as close as possible to the daily experience and practice of nurses.’ The guide, to be published in 2019, is seen as a potential ‘bestseller’ not only for nurses but also for a wider readership interested in microorganisms.
While nurses are on the frontline in tackling the twin problems of vaccine hesitancy and AMR, it is essential that others lend their support to this effort, he says: ‘If we do this alone, we will get nowhere. Other stakeholders need to get on board if we are to make a change for public health in Europe – and globally.’