The elderly are a vulnerable group of people and those who live in nursing homes have a higher exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These types of germs are called superbugs and they can cause serious infections that are difficult or impossible to treat.
The spread of germs in nursing homes is a common problem, however, the spread of superbugs in these facilities can cause life-threatening infections. Superbugs are strains of bacteria that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics.
With a large majority of elderly people having a weakened immune system and underlying illnesses, it is important to understand how to prevent the spread of superbugs in nursing homes.
What Are Superbugs?
Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest challenges within the public health care system. Bacteria, called superbugs have started to adapt and mutate in a way that has made them resistant to common antibiotics. Superbugs that cause pneumonia and skin infections are just a few of the dangers we now face.
Antibiotic resistance is a natural process and it can be slowed, but not stopped. With prolonged and repeated exposure to drugs, bacteria can mutate to ensure their survival, making standard antibiotics less effective, or ineffective entirely.
There are things that increase the development and spread of superbugs in homes, such as:
- Overuse or misuse of antibiotics
- Poor prevention and control practices
- Mishandling food
- Unhygienic living and working environments
Top Superbug Threats
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report that outlined the top superbug threats in the U.S. According to the CDC, at least 2 million people in the U.S. are infected by some type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, killing around 23,000 people.
According to the CDC, the following superbugs in nursing homes are the biggest threat to residents:
- Clostridioides Difficile: Also known as C. diff, this superbug causes life-threatening diarrhea and colon inflammation. C. diff is estimated to infect around 500,000 people per year, with a total of 15,000 related deaths.
- Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE): Also known as nightmare bacteria, CRE is resistant to nearly all antibiotics, including carbapenems, which are considered the antibiotics of last resort. CRE is estimated to infect around 9,000 people per year, with a total of 600 related deaths.
- Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA): MRSA has become resistant to certain antibiotics called beta-lactams, including methicillin, and generally infects patients in healthcare settings. MRSA is estimated to infect around 80,461 people per year, with a total of 11,285 deaths.
- Drug-Resistant Streptococcus Pneumoniae: Also known as S. pneumonia, this superbug causes a range of ear, sinus, pneumonia and bloodstream infections. This superbug causes 1.2 million infections each year, hospitalizing over 19,000 people and killing 7,000.
Risk of Superbugs in Seniors
Hospitals create the optimal environment for infection, given the lowered immune system and close proximity of patients. According to the CDC, 1 in 25 patients develops at least one healthcare-associated infection during their stay, some of which are caused by superbugs.
To make matters worse, healthy individuals can be carriers of resistant bacteria, bringing these dangerous superbugs in and out of hospitals and nursing homes unknowingly.
In recent years, an increased number of superbugs have spread from hospitals to nursing and long-term care facilities. A recent study found that 64 percent of residents in 18 nursing homes tested positive for a multidrug-resistant bacterium. For nursing home residents who are sick or frail, contracting a superbug can be deadly.
Preventing the Spread of Superbugs in Nursing Homes
A recent clinical trial may have found a new protocol that could dramatically decrease the spread of superbugs in nursing homes. Nursing homes in Illinois and California are testing a new protocol that has been successful in reducing the spread of MRSA superbugs.
The new procedure involves washing patients’ skin and cleaning their nostrils with a special kind of soap when they are first admitted to a nursing home. The soap contains the antibacterial agent, chlorhexidine. Patients’ nostrils are cleaned with an antibiotic ointment to remove germs.
It is important for nursing homes to implement infection-control protocols to keep residents, visitors and staff safe. If nursing homes don’t have proper protocols in place, and infections go unaddressed and uncared for, they could be held responsible. If a resident passes due to this negligence, the nursing home could also be responsible for wrongful death.
Contact Nursing Home Abuse Justice if your loved one has suffered a serious infection or death from an infection caused by superbugs in nursing homes.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance (AR/AMR): Biggest Threats & Data.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/biggest_threats.html. Accessed on May 18th, 2019.
UCI Health, “Fighting Superbugs in ICUs and Nursing Homes.” Retrieved from: https://www.ucihealth.org/blog/2018/07/superbugs. Accessed on May 18th, 2019.
Shots: Health News from NPR, “Hospitals Look to Nursing Homes to Help Stop Drug-Resistant Infections.” Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/04/02/707842736/enter-title. Accessed on May 18th, 2019