Seniors are at an increased risk for a wide variety of infections because of lowered immune systems and other factors. When they live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, this risk increases even further. Infections in nursing homes can lead to hospitalization, further loss of mobility or independence, a decline in quality of life and even death.
And, despite other health concerns and the exposure to the germs of other residents, many of these infections are preventable with the right precautions.
What are the most common infections seen in nursing homes?
There have been few recent widespread studies about the prevalence of nursing home infections. This makes it difficult to determine estimates on how common they are. However, a review of common infections in long-term care facilities can give us an idea about what type of infectious diseases are most common. This list, published in Aging Health, includes:
Pneumonia is common in nursing homes in Bucks County, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and beyond. Pneumonia often occurs following some other type of respiratory issues, such as allergies or influenza. It may also stem from aspiration, especially in seniors who have difficulty swallowing or rely on a feeding tube.
Taking preventative measures can help reduce the incidence of pneumonia. These include:
- Treating all respiratory complaints promptly, including allergies and sinus infections
- Requiring all patients and staff to receive annual flu shots and pneumonia immunizations
- Following all protocols for prevention of aspiration pneumonia
Urinary Tract Infections
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common among those who use urinary catheters, even if they do not require long-term nursing assistance. Catheters, by their very nature, invite bacteria into the urinary tract. Careful attention to hygiene and knowledge of best practices is necessary to prevent infection.
In a nursing home, staff members who place, clean, and otherwise manipulate indwelling catheters need specialized training on preventing infections. When the facility fails to provide training or staff fails to follow the protocols, UTIs often result.
Gastroenteritis and other Diarrheal Illnesses
We are all familiar with “the stomach flu” or a stomach virus. Often, viral or bacterial gastroenteritis causes the accompanying diarrhea and vomiting. Other possibilities are norovirus and, in an increasing number of cases, Clostridium difficile.
Just as children share these bugs in schools, seniors who live in close quarters and socialize in common areas of the nursing home spread these infections. Nursing home residents are at an increased risk of serious complications from diarrheal illnesses, primarily dehydration.
Both chronic and acute skin infections are common among nursing home residents. Some of the factors that contribute to a senior’s increased risk include:
- Thinner skin with a higher risk of cuts and tears
- Dry skin
- Longer time to heal open wounds
- High incidence of diabetes and other contributing conditions
- Lack of mobility leading to bedsores
Chronic infections often begin because of an untreated bedsore or diabetic ulcer. Staphylococcus aureus, often called a staph infection, is common. In hospitals and nursing homes, it is not unusual for the strain to be Methicillin-resistant. Commonly called MRSA, this strain is difficult to treat because it is resistant to many frequently prescribed antibiotics.
Most acute infections stem from bacteria, such as cellulitis and necrotizing fasciitis. Viral infections are possible, however, and include scabies, herpes zoster, and herpes simplex.
Can nursing homes lower the risk of infections?
While not all infections are preventable, many are. All nursing homes in the United States must have an infection prevention and control program in place before they can receive any payments from Medicare or Medicaid. If they fail to follow the protocols in the program and an infection results, they may be liable for damages.
If you believe your loved one suffered from a preventable infection caused by nursing home negligence in New Jersey, Philadelphia, or Bucks County, Cordisco & Saile, LLC may be able to help you recover compensation to pay for medical treatment and other losses.