Posted by Bill Sandweg on 14 October 2019.
As the population of the United States ages, more and more of us will find ourselves or our loved ones in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. There is more and more data to suggest that these facilities are harming the health, not only of their patients, but of individuals and patients who never enter a nursing home or long-term care facility.
Some of the most recent evidence of this hazard comes courtesy of a drug resistant fungal infection called Candida auris. This highly contagious infection was first identified in Japan in 2009 and came to the United States in 2015. Since its arrival, it has infected nearly 800 people, half of whom usually die within 90 days of becoming infected. It is but one of the drug-resistant and other infections that are all too common in nursing homes.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities play an important role in spreading drug resistant infections throughout the woder community. The facilities house patients who are either ill or aged or both and whose immune systems are weak. They are prime candidates for infection. Additionally, some of these facilities are understaffed or do not train their staff well in infection control or the staff, even if well-trained, does not follow safe practices. As a result, infections often spread rapidly among the patients who are cared for in these facilities.
While it is bad enough that patients in these facilities are exposed to and infected by the other patients and the staff carrying pathogens from room to room, the greater public health risk arises when one of these infected patients becomes seriously ill. At that point, an ambulance takes them to a traditional hospital, where they may introduce their infection to the other hospital patients. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are reservoirs of dangerous infections, which they repeatedly bring to regular hospitals.
The New York Times recently had an article about the role nursing homes and long-term care facilities play in the spread of infection. One of the important quotes in the article referred to these facilities, “They are caldrons that are constantly seeding and reseeding hospitals with increasingly dangerous bacteria,” said Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York who leads the nonprofit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. “You’ll never protect hospital patients until the nursing homes are forced to clean up.”
A recent study in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases reported high rates of drug-resistant infections in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Patients, staff and family may carry drug-resistant germs around on their bodies without showing symptoms and spread them to other patients and other family members. The researchers found that 65% of the residents of nursing homes in Southern California carried a drug-resistant pathogen. Similar pathogens were carried by 80% of the residents of long-term acute care hospitals. By contrast, only 10-15% of patients in traditional hospitals carried the pathogens.
Nursing homes and long-term care hospitals present a dangerous health risk to all of us. If they don’t clean up their act, these drug-resistant infections will continue to spread. It may or may not already be too late to prevent the spread of these infections but it is never too late to begin to observe proper infection control in these facilities and elsewhere. If you visit a patient in one of these facilities, do your part and observe proper infection control protocols. Don’t let yourself or your family become infected.