Infections in Nursing Homes

Nursing homes currently provide services to more than 3 million Americans every year. In most cases, these facilities provide the care and treatment that elderly loved ones can no longer receive at home. However, there are some unseen dangers that can have deadly consequences, and the most common danger is the risk of infections.

Each year, there are from 1 to 3 million infections seen in nursing homes and up to 380,000 residents who die from them. While a few of these illnesses are somewhat routine, when it involves seniors over the age of 65, the infection rate is much higher. Additionally, the symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from normal everyday behaviors such as loss of appetite, falling, or incontinence. Some of the most common infections seen in these facilities include MRSA, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, staph infections, and influenza.

MRSA

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of skin infection that occurs when the bacteria enters the body through a sore or cut on the skin. It can also be introduced through breathing tubes, catheters, and other methods that allow entry into the bloodstream. This infection is resistant to antibiotics, making it a serious threat to the elderly, especially if it becomes a blood infection. The most serious MRSA infections often have symptoms that include:

  • High fever
  • Rash
  • Chills
  • Chest pains
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Skin abscesses that are warm or have drainage

For serious MRSA cases, the patient may require IV medications and oxygen, as well as other treatments depending on any comorbidities that may be present and have an effect on their health. In severe cases, isolation is required in a nursing home setting to avoid spreading it to others who are highly susceptible.

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections, and they can be difficult to diagnose. While younger people often experience pain when urinating, this is not the case in elderly patients. In these situations, incontinence, confusion, sudden behavior changes, and worsening of dementia are often the warning signs. UTIs are more prevalent in seniors due to the increased use of catheters and not drinking enough fluids. Seniors who have a urinary tract infection generally require antibiotics after the illness has been discovered.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a serious problem for seniors in nursing homes due to increased exposure, the presence of diabetes or cardiopulmonary disease, smaller lung capacity, and long periods of lying down. The typical symptoms of chills, cough, and fever are often not seen in seniors, making it more difficult to diagnose the infection. Instead, confusion, weakness, and delirium are often the first signs of pneumonia. Treatment generally requires antibiotics.

Staph Infection

While staph infection is another word for MRSA, the bacteria can also cause food poisoning. The illness will come on quickly, and unlike other forms of food poisoning, there will typically not be a fever. Instead, the patient will have nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and dehydration. In food poisoning caused by staph, the illness often resolves quickly, but can be devastating for seniors.

Influenza

Influenza is another dangerous infection for seniors. Their weakened immunity and other health issues often cause the illness to become worse and turn into pneumonia. In most cases the symptoms include fever, chills, and cough, but not all elderly patients will show these signs. This is especially problematic in nursing homes, as the illness is easily spread through sneezing and coughing.

Infections in nursing homes are common, and without swift and proper care, they can be deadly. If you feel that your loved one is acting strangely, or shows any of the symptoms of these illnesses, you need to let the nursing staff know as soon as possible.

Sources:

http://www.cdc.gov/longtermcare/

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