Nursing homes, by their nature, are home to a large amount of contact among people with weakened immune systems. In such environments, contagious diseases can spread quickly, to both residents and staff.
There are methods to control this spread, and a good nursing home will do what it can to keep the residents and staff safe and healthy. However, a number of factors have come together that aid in the spread of certain diseases, especially bacteria that have developed a resistance to antibiotics.
The Centers for Disease Control have provided a guideline to communicating concerns about antibiotic-resistant diseases. Their article, which focuses largely on a bacterium that causes pneumonia and ear infections called Streptococcus pneumoniae (or pneumococcus), describes how environments like nursing homes and day care centers contribute to the spread of such bacteria and what steps can be taken to limit that spread.
In essence, the most common drugs used to address bacterial infections are antibiotics. However, misuse of antibiotics has given bacteria an opening to adapt and become resistant to such treatments. This misuse can be caused by doctors and by patients.
Doctors contribute by prescribing antibiotics too frequently—including giving antibiotics out for viral infections, which cannot be treated through antibiotics. Patients contribute by not taking antibiotics as directed. Many patients stop taking their medicine once they feel better instead of completing the entire course of medication, which is needed to kill the entire infection and prevent leftover bacteria from developing resistance. Moreover, if a patient keeps the leftover antibiotics and starts taking them again when they experience similar symptoms, such misuse can also create resistant bacteria.
The report cites that this behavior contributes to pneumococcus causing 100,000–135,000 hospitalizations for pneumonia, 50,000 cases of bloodstream infection, and 3,000 cases of meningitis every year.
Nursing Home Treatment
There are a number of approaches that can limit the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria like pneumococcus. Doctors are urged to be careful about prescribing antibiotics, and we can all help by ensuring that we follow our medical directions carefully and faithfully. One of a nursing home's most important jobs is to make sure residents are taking all of their medications as prescribed, since nursing home residents often lack the capacity to do so on their own. Negligence in administration of antibiotics can contribute to the creation and spread of resistant bacteria.
One problem largely specific to nursing homes, however, is a lack of vaccination. There is a vaccine available for pneumococcus, but it is not given at nursing homes as often as it could be. This is partly because it can be hard to know if individuals have already been vaccinated, and some professionals are under the mistaken concern that a duplicate vaccination is harmful.
The CDC notes that only 45 percent of individuals over the age of 65 have been vaccinated against pneumococcus, and that outbreaks in nursing homes often occur in environments where only 5 percent have been vaccinated. It is vital that health care professionals, especially those working with high-risk populations such as the elderly, take all available steps to ensure their health and safety.
When nursing homes neglect to provide the care our elders need, disease spreads and people can die from preventable issues. If your loved one has suffered from their care, contact us today to discuss your options.