National IV Nurse Day, January 25: Honors MS Infusion Nurses

First established in 1980, January 25 of every year marks the day when those with MS using infusion treatments can publicly recognize and celebrate the IV nurses who’ve helped them.1

What is an infusion?

An infusion is a specific delivery method for administering medication. For people with MS, infusions can be shots that take place at home or they may require a trip to an infusion center.

Self-injected drugs

Self-injected medications for MS include the drug class known as interferons:2

  • beta-1a (Avonex®, Rebif®)
  • beta 1-b (Betaseron®, Extavia®)
  • glatiramer acetate (Copaxone®, Glatopa®, generic glatiramer acetate)
  • peginterferon beta-1a (Plegridy®)

Another medication, ofatumumab (Kesimpta®), is not an interferon, but a B-cell therapy that is delivered at home monthly via subcutaneous self-injection.2

Self-injection can range from daily to less frequently (once every two weeks), depending upon the drug used. While an infusion nurse is not typically involved in these frequent injections, they can be a lifesaver for people new to injectable medications, teaching them how to self-inject their medication, manage side effects, and store their drugs properly.

Assisted infusion drugs

Infusions for MS that may require the care of an IV nurse belong to the drug class known as monoclonal antibodies (note the “-mab” suffix in the name which identifies these). These drugs include:2

  • natalizumab (Tysabri®) (given every four weeks)
  • alemtuzumab (Lemtrada®) (a three-day course given annually after an official five-day first course)
  • ocrelizumab (Ocrevus™) (given twice in two weeks to start, followed by every six months)

Another medication, mitoxantrone (Novantrone®) is rarely prescribed now, but some people with MS may still be using it.2 Those using this drug visit an infusion center, where they’re treated by an infusion nurse.

Other MS-related drugs delivered by infusion

Aside from the disease-modifying drugs (DMDs) used to treat MS, you may also receive other kinds of infusions from skilled IV nurses, including:

  • Rituximab (Rituxan®) treatment
  • Anti-inflammatory steroids (methylprednisolone, such as Solu-Medrol®)
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin therapy
  • Plasmapheresis

What happens during infusion?

Assisted infusion drugs are generally delivered through a medical facility such as a doctor’s office, hospital, or infusion center. There are exceptions, in which case an infusion nurse travels to the private home of someone with MS to deliver their medication.

MS medications are administered through an IV catheter, a small tube the nurse temporarily embeds in your arm to deliver the medication. Some people experience some discomfort during the procedure, but in general, most infusions delivered by the deft hand of an infusion nurse are not painful.3

You may or may not need to take oral medications prior to treatment; the infusion nurse will know when these are an appropriate part of the medication course. What’s more, if you must go to a center to receive your infusion, you can bring a loved one with you for company. There, the infusion nurse will likely offer you comforting options, such as blankets, warmed IVs, and snacks, as well as access to wi-fi, to help you pass the time as pleasantly as possible.3

Depending upon the drug being administered, your stay while waiting for an infusion to be fully delivered can last anywhere from two to eight hours. If you’re in an infusion center, you may need to stay a little while longer after the IV nurse finishes so they can observe and identify any side effects that might occur.3

Celebrating infusion nurses

Infusion nurses can be an important part of one’s MS team. An infusion nurse is a registered nurse who specializes in all aspects of infusion therapy. They collaborate with multiple healthcare providers to ensure patients receive adequate care on time and experience improved outcomes as a result.1

In some cases, they assist patients in the safe self-administration of their medications in the home environment. The National Home Infusion Association (NHIA) reported recently that more than three million patients in the United States used the services of an infusion nurse in their homes in 2019, marking a substantial increase since the last industry study in 2008.4,5

In other cases, these nurses coordinate patient care and therapeutic delivery directly through an infusion clinic. An IV nurse is also skilled in recognizing and managing complications that come from the use of infusion drugs like those that many with MS choose for treatment of their condition. Most commonly, they can act quickly to relieve infusion site reactions and hypersensitivity that the therapy may bring on occasion.

Many people with MS have one or more IV nurses to thank for the safe, comfortable delivery of their medication. If you have received outstanding care from your infusion nurse, consider recognizing and thanking them this January 25 for all they’ve done to help you manage and treat your MS.

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