Infection Rates in Nursing Homes on the Rise: Study

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WEDNESDAY, Oct. 8, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Infection rates within U.S. nursing homes are on the rise, and that trend will continue until better hygiene practices are put in place, a new study suggests.

"Infections are a leading cause of deaths and complications for nursing home residents and, with the exception of tuberculosis, we found a significant increase in infection rates across the board," study author Carolyn Herzig, of the Columbia University School of Nursing, said in a school news release.

Her team analyzed data submitted by nursing homes to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services between 2006 and 2010. They found rising rates of pneumonia, urinary tract infections, viral hepatitis, septicemia (blood infection), wound infections and multiple drug-resistant bacterial infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Urinary tract infections and pneumonia were the most common, but the 48 percent rise in viral hepatitis was the largest over the five years, according to the study to be presented Tuesday at IDWeek 2014, an infectious diseases conference in Philadelphia.

Multiple drug-resistant bacterial infections increased 18 percent, pneumonia rose 11 percent and there was a 1 percent rise in urinary tract infections.

"Unless we can improve infection prevention and control in nursing homes, this problem is only going to get worse as the baby boomers age and people are able to live longer with increasingly complex, chronic diseases," Herzig said.

Further research is needed to pinpoint the reasons for the rising infection rates, she believes, but a number of simple steps can help reduce nursing home residents' risk of infection, and families should ask about them when selecting a nursing home for a loved one.

For example, urinary tract infections can be prevented by reducing the use of urinary catheters and increasing the number of assisted trips to the toilet or diaper changes for residents who can't use the bathroom.

"Nobody wants to think about diapers, but even if your loved one enters the nursing home able to use the bathroom independently, they may need assistance down the line," Herzig said. "Seeing how well toileting needs are met is one way to assess infection risk."

Proper hand hygiene can also help prevent pneumonia and other infections that can spread through the air or contact with contaminated surfaces.

"When you walk into a nursing home for the first time, you should easily spot hand sanitizer dispensers or hand-washing stations," Herzig said. "If you don't see this, it's an indication that infection control and prevention may be lacking at the facility."

Experts note that findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The AGS Foundation for Health in Aging has more about nursing homes.