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Nursing Home Infections - What Are They, and What Causes Them?

Nursing homes are intended to be places where the elderly can comfortably live out their golden years with the support of a trained nursing staff. Although medical professionals are present, residents don't always receive the care they deserve or need. In fact, they may be at greater risk if proper care isn’t taken. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, take the time to learn about potential health risks associated with these types of facilities.

Common Infections in Nursing Homes

For anyone who’s ever lived in a dormitory or gone to sleep away camp, you know that when one person gets sick, odds are everyone else will too. Nursing homes are no different, but residents lack the robust immune systems of younger crowds. Identifying and properly treating diseases is a vital part of nursing home care that, when handled properly, would eliminate hospital visits.

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): The most common type of UTI in nursing homes is caused when bacteria enters the urinary tract through a catheter. It’s the responsibility of the nursing staff to ensure these don’t occur, especially since advanced age is a primary risk factor associated with UTIs.
  • Pneumonia: Over 60% of patients 65 and older are admitted to hospitals for pneumonia. Reduced lung capacity and increased exposure to diseases that comes from living in a community setting makes pneumonia much more likely.
  • Influenza: Influenza outbreaks regularly occur in nursing homes, even when vaccination rates are over 90%. Pneumonia and the flu combined are the sixth leading cause of death in America, and seniors make up 90% of those deaths. While antiviral medications can reduce the symptoms, vaccination is still the best way to combat the disease.
  • Tuberculosis: Along with the disease itself, one of the most dangerous aspects of tuberculosis is how difficult it is to diagnose. Many older patients don’t show typical symptoms of the disease, which can lead to it going undiagnosed for long periods of time, increasing the risk of transmission.

Multi-drug resistant organisms (MDRO)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health threats in the world. Up to 70% of nursing home residents are prescribed an antibiotic each year, many of whom don’t actually need them. While not the sole cause of MDROs, antibiotics are becoming increasingly common in senior care facilities. The most commonly found antibiotic-resistant organisms in these facilities are:

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): Healthy individuals may carry this disease asymptomatically for years. It initially presents as small red bumps that resemble boils or pimples that increase in size and become more painful over the course of a few days. They eventually become open, deep, pus-filled boils, and in some cases can affect vital organs.
  • Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE): While only some strains of this disease are drug-resistant, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is a major cause of UTIs, as well as endocarditis. If gone untreated, it can lead to damaged heart valves and heart failure.