Episode 220: Oncologic Emergencies 101: Febrile Neutropenia and Sepsis

“It’s actually the nurse who most often first identifies the subtle signs of sepsis in patients. Trust your clinical judgement,” ONS member Laura Zitella, MS, RN, ACNP-BC, AOCN®, nurse practitioner at the University of California, San Francisco, told listeners during a conversation with Stephanie Jardine, BSN, RN, oncology clinical specialist at ONS. Zitella explained the nursing and management considerations for febrile neutropenia and what to do if it transitions into sepsis. This episode is part of a series about oncologic emergencies; the previous episodes are also linked below. You can also earn free NCPD contact hours after listening to this episode by completing the evaluation linked below.

Note. The ratio of normal flora cells to human body cells is close to 1:1. 

Music Credit: "Fireflies and Stardust" by Kevin MacLeod

Licensed under Creative Commons by Attribution 3.0

Earn 0.5 contact hours of nursing continuing professional development (NCPD) by listening to the full recording and completing an evaluation at myoutcomes.ons.org by August 12, 2024. The planners and faculty for this episode have no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies to disclose. ONS is accredited as a provider of NCPD by the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Commission on Accreditation.

Episode Notes

To discuss the information in this episode with other oncology nurses, visit the ONS Communities.

To provide feedback or otherwise reach ONS about the podcast, email pubONSVoice@ons.org.

Highlights From Today’s Episode

“We know that fever and neutropenia in combination needs to be treated immediately. This is a high-risk oncologic emergency. Our patients who have febrile neutropenia are at very high risk of having a severe infection or sepsis.” Timestamp (TS) 03:44

“Patients with cancer are at an increased risk for infection because of the inherent immunosuppression of the cancer itself and also the treatment.” TS 08:28

“There are some very, very basic things that patients can do [to decrease risk for infection]. The most important is good handwashing. I explain to patients that your skin is the best barrier against getting an infection. If there’s no break in the skin, then infection cannot get in. So, if your hands get contaminated and you wash them before you touch your eyes or your mouth or your nose, then that is a good way to prevent infection.” TS 11:42

“Even if a patient does everything perfect, most of the time when you’re neutropenic, the infections that develop come from endogenous organisms. So, our body is colonized with probably 10 times as many microbes as human cells, and when the immune system is suppressed, it allows these organisms sometimes to cause infection. So, it’s very important for patients to know that if they have signs of infection that they should let us know so that we can start immediate treatment to treat the infection.” TS 14:01

“If patients are higher risk or they have any organ dysfunctions, or other symptoms—like they’re unwell, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, any symptoms like that—they should be admitted to the hospital, and we would initiate IV antibiotics.” TS 17:37

“It’s actually the nurse who’s most often the person that first identifies sepsis in patients, so I think it’s really important to trust your clinical judgement. When you look at a patient, it’s really easy to tell when something is wrong. When they’re starting to breathe too heavy or they’re a little bit off and they’re starting to get some altered mental status, or suddenly their heart rate is elevated for no reason even though they’re just lying in bed. So, nurses are really positioned and are most often the ones who first pick up on these subtle signs.” TS 27:17

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