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Infectious disease: The dirty secret of nursing homes

At any given time, there are more than 5 million residents of long-term care facilities here in the United States. For most, this will be their last residence here on Earth. Even for those whose health dictates a temporary stay, the conditions they encounter at these nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities could shorten their lives precipitously.

Even without the complications from the present worldwide health crisis, nursing homes were struggling to get a handle on the problem of infection control. in fact, it's estimated that as many as 3 million serious infections break out annually in these facilities.

Most common infections

Anywhere there are many people gathered under a single roof, the risk of infection rises. Each year in the long-term care facilities across America, 380,000 succumb to the infections they encounter there, including:

  • Antibiotic-resistant staph infections like MRSA
  • Diarrhea
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • C. difficile

All of these infections can lead to patient deaths unless swiftly and aggressively treated by staff, including isolating infected patients from the other residents.

Isolation may be impossible

In facilities with a full patient census, it may be impossible to fully isolate patients. For instance, in cases of C. difficile, a notoriously contagious germ that is often spread through contact with diarrhea, it may not be possible for residents with roommates to have separate toilet facilities during an outbreak.

In cases like this, staff must be extra careful when cleaning the bathroom to avoid carrying those highly infectious germs from one room to another on their cleaning supplies, gloves, shoes and other clothing. Once C. diff enters the general population of the nursing home or long-term care facility, it will spread like wildfire and be exceedingly difficult to contain.

How can you protect a loved one?

At the start of an outbreak, your options may be limited, as the facilities' attempts to clear the infection may include barring guests of residents. But by remaining in close telephone contact with the resident and the facility's staff, you can stay abreast of the situation. In some cases, you may need to advocate legally for a nursing home resident whose care has been substandard.

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