Preventing Respiratory Tract Infections in Healthcare Facilities
As the summer comes closer to an end and the days slowly grow colder and shorter as we enter autumn and prepare for winter, it’s time to start thinking about common infections and how they can be prevented. Respiratory tract infections, which include diseases such as pneumonia, bronchitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis, asthma, the common cold and even certain strains of the flu, grow in prevalence during the autumn, as people spread more time indoors and their immunity is lowered. In healthcare facilities – particularly senior care facilities, as patients are kept in close proximity of one another and the patients often have compromised immune systems – these types of infections can spread easily and be potentially fatal.
Studies have shown that children and seniors are at the highest risk of infection, so nursing homes and long-term care facilities that treat children should be particularly mindful of these risks. A Columbia University study found that, of 2,052 infections diagnosed among 717 patients all under the age of 21 over a three-year period, 62.9% of infections were respiratory tract infections, with a rate of 3.3 infections every 1000 days (compared to the overall infection rate of 5.3 infections every 1000 days). The infections were particularly prominent among the younger children.
According to a report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, respiratory tract infections that commonly appear in elderly patients are pneumonia, acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and non-pneumonic respiratory tract infections. The study also brought up the fact that it can often be difficult to come to an early diagnosis in respiratory tract infections and may be hard to ascertain the infections’ origins, which can lead to even more trouble in the future. The American Academy of Family Physicians also reported that 80 to 90 percent of influenza deaths occur in people over the age of 65.
All healthcare facilities, but particularly those with higher-risk patients such as children and senior citizens, need to be prepared for the upcoming fall and winter and ensure that their patients have a lower risk of contracting potentially fatal infections. Here are some of the ways that these facilities can reduce the risk of outbreaks of these infections:
- Ensuring that all residents, if able, receive available vaccines (particularly influenza vaccines)
- Creating a strict set of standards for facility employees to adhere by, which would include wearing the proper protective gear, washing hands frequently, staying up-to-date with vaccinations, making tissues and cleaning supplies readily available, and more
- Understanding which areas of the facility are most heavily-trafficked (and thus most likely to spread disease), particularly with patients with compromised immune systems
- Diligently sanitizing the facility on a regular basis
- Monitoring airflow levels and pressure balances; between 17 and 20 percent of healthcare-acquired infections are airborne, and controlling the air quality will help to prevent spreading airborne diseases.
Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring nursing homes and assisted living facilities and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 317.575.4440.