nursing home

Infections in Nursing Homes Are On The Rise

There is a rapid and ongoing rise in preventable infections in nursing homes. Nursing homes, like hospitals, are hotbeds for the spread of infectious disease. Disease spreads when people are kept in tight close quarters. Nursing homes combine tight living arrangements with people who are unusually susceptible to disease, the elderly. The result is a perfect storm that puts both staff and resident’s health at risk.

As such, nursing home staff members must observe strict hygiene procedures to control the spread of infectious diseases. Even one person is sufficient to spread an infection from room to room.

The Study

The study was conducted by the Columbia University, School of Nursing. It used data from 2006 to 2012 collected by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The researchers tracked increases in the following infectious diseases:

  • Pneumonia,
  • Viral hepatitis,
  • Septicemia,
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI),
  • Multiple drug-resistant bacteria (MDRO), including Staphylococcus aureus, and
  • Wound infections.

They found that pneumonia and UTIs were by far the most common infections. Pneumonia cases rose by 11 percent while UTI’s increased by one percent. However, the study found that viral hepatitis infections rose by an alarming 48 percent. Finally, the researchers found that multiple-drug resistant bacteria infections rates rose by 18 percent.

Essentially the researchers noted a rise in infectious diseases across the board, except tuberculosis.

The Risk

There are two risks associated with rising infection rates. First, the residents, staff and their families are at risk. Most people move to nursing homes because they are too sick or weak to live on their own. They are acutely vulnerable to infectious diseases. Additionally, the staff interacts with all of the residents on a daily basis. They are the perfect vehicle to transfer infections between residents and to their families at home. This puts residents, staff and their families at risk.

Second, bacteria incubate in people. Every time a bacterium infects another person, it adapts and becomes slightly harder to eradicate. It becomes even harder to stop if nursing homes use antibiotics ineffectively. Nursing homes are ideal incubators to produce more strains of drug-resistant bacteria.

Nursing home will continue to increase in importance. As more Baby Boomers retire, they will need a place to live out their final years. Nursing homes are part of that solution. Until nursing home can institute stricter safety procedures, more and more people will get infected by these diseases.

Possible Solutions

While alarming, the researchers also state that there are several easily identifiable causes for the increase and provided several solutions to curb this trend.

To combat UTIs, the researchers note that urinary catheters are a common cause of UTIs. They urge nursing homes to move away from blanket use of catheters. Nursing assistants should provide more bathroom break assistance and use diapers instead. No one relishes the idea of their loved one sitting in a diaper however diapers are much safer than urinary catheters.

Pneumonia, the flu and other airborne diseases that spread through contact with contaminated surfaces can be checked with proper hand hygiene. Most people do not appreciate the vast numbers of bacteria that hands can pick up. Hands, like feet, constantly interact with the outside world. This makes them hotbeds for potential infections. Usually these bacteria are not a threat however in a nursing home with high concentrations of people and disease, they can be deadly. Regular washing and easily accessible hand sanitizer is critical to reduce this threat.

The media has recently become obsessed with drug-resistant bacteria. Every other year, there is a new disease that threatens to wipe out humanity: SARS, MRSA and H1N1. Most of these diseases fizzle out due to one factor or another however drug resistant bacterium are never fully eliminated because they are immune to traditional sanitizers and antibiotics. Hopsitals must either use powerful medications that could kill the patient or introduce screening and sequestration. For nursing homes only realistic defense is screening residents for infection and isolating them from other residents and staff.

Most nursing homes wait until a resident becomes symptomatic before they begin treatment and isolation but by that point it is usually too late – the infection has spread. Nursing homes can introduce more stringent screening and isolation procedures. If a resident is infected, they can be sequestered in a private room to protect the other residents and for treatment.

Families should not be afraid to question a nursing home’s hygiene and safety procedures. Don’t be afraid to ask nursing assistants to use diapers rather than urinary catheters. Families can also install their own hand sanitizer stations in their loved one’s room. Everyone needs to pitch in to reduce this problem.