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The Most Common Infectious Diseases in Nursing Home Residents

Chris Murray
Posted on: January 3, 2020 by Chris Murray

Infectious diseases represent a serious public health concern, accounting for thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in medical expenses each year. In healthcare facilities like nursing homes, the spread of infection can negatively impact health outcomes, potentially putting residents’ lives at risk. Infection risks also put a strain on nursing home staff and the financial resources of the facility. While nursing home insurance is designed to protect facilities from certain risks, there is no more important risk management step than understanding the nature of infectious disease pathogens, including identifying the most common diseases spread within nursing facilities.

Infection Risks in Nursing Homes: An Overview

With an estimated 16,000 nursing homes in the United States and over a million seniors depending on the care provided by these facilities, it is easy to understand that infectious diseases have the potential to affect many lives. Nursing home populations are expected to increase dramatically within the coming years; by 2030, an estimated 5.3 million people will seek care in nursing facilities. 

According to a study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, nursing home residents are at particular risk of infection due to several factors, including proximity to others as well as declining health of the nursing home resident population. Many seniors in nursing homes already have serious illnesses; infectious disease pathogens further complicate the care and safety of those residents. Based on statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about two million infections occur each year in U.S. nursing facilities. 

Common Infections in Nursing Homes

Researchers have pinpointed three broad categories of infection in nursing home residents:

  • Respiratory infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Skin and soft tissue infections

Poor oral hygiene and breathing/swallowing difficulties can hasten the acquisition and spread of respiratory pathogens, including bacterial and viral pathogens that are behind pneumonia. Influenza is another serious healthcare risk in nursing homes. Close living quarters aggravates the risk; otherwise healthy residents may come into contact with respiratory infection pathogens during meals or social engagements. 

Because many seniors utilize urinary catheters or similar devices, infections related to the use of these devices has led to a sharp uptick in urinary tract infections (UTIs). It is estimated that 3-7 percent of nursing home residents using catheters, particularly so-called indwelling catheters, will develop a UTI with each day the device remains in place. About half of all nursing home residents will develop some form of UTI during their stays, making these infections some of the most commonly-diagnosed in seniors.

Disability and lack of mobility often require nursing home residents to remain in bed. Immobility can lead to an increase in maceration infections (“bed sores”). Devices employed for patient care, including feeding tubes, cardiac devices, and tracheostomy tubes, can also increase the risk of skin and soft tissue damage, providing an entry point for infections. Infections may range from simple skin inflammation to more serious diseases as staph infections or necrotizing fasciitis. In aging populations, these diseases can take a devastating toll.

Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens: Threatening Lives and Safety

The healthcare industry has seen a dramatic increase in infections resulting from antibiotic-resistant pathogens in recent years. Overuse of antibacterial cleaners and hand-sanitizers, as well as an increase in antibiotic medication use, has led to the development of organisms that are not easily killed by antibiotics. Some of the more common antibiotic-resistant organisms include:

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Resistant gram-negative bacilli
  • Vancomycin-resistant enterococci 

The medical research community is scrambling to find solutions to this growing problem, including improved sanitizing protocols as well as the development of new “super antibiotics”. Until breakthroughs are made, however, antibiotic-resistant pathogens will continue to pose significant and life-threatening risks to patients in nursing homes. Nursing home insurance represents only one part of a more comprehensive risk management strategy for nursing home facilities. Managers and staff must take steps toward identifying and eliminating disease pathogens from spreading within facilities to preserve the health and safety of at-risk nursing home residents. 

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes 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 877.226.1027.

Posted in: blog Nursing Home