Infectious Disease Spreads in Nursing Homes

Madeleine Jones
October 25, 2016

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), senior nursing home residents are at a high risk of contracting infectious diseases. Complications from these diseases often lead to ongoing discomfort, chronic poor health, a higher risk of hospitalization, and even death. Family members of ill residents commonly step in to file personal injury claims with a Las Vegas nursing home abuse attorney.

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infographic_Infectious Disease in Nursing Homes

Common Infections in the Elderly

Although seniors over the age of 65 are more susceptible to infections than younger adults, seniors who are in nursing home facilities are at even greater risk. Infectious diseases in the elderly are often difficult to diagnose because of deteriorating health. Residents often have vague signs and symptoms such as loss of appetite, a decline in physical abilities, changes in mental health and incontinence. The five most common infections in nursing homes include:

Skin Infections

With age, skin infections become more common because of poor hygiene and slower healing. Unusual skin itching, skin lesions, and skin tenderness and pain are common. More serious skin conditions like pressure ulcers, cellulitis, herpes zoster (shingles), and fungal or bacterial foot infections caused by diabetes often lead to long-term pain and treatment. In nursing homes, a nursing home attorney often handles personal injury cases as a result of drug-resistant infections like Staphylococcus aureus.

Urinary Tract Infections

According to AAFP, urinary tract infections are the most common bacterial infection seen in elderly adults. Nursing home residents who have diabetes or use catheters are at higher risk for urinary tract infections. Common warning signs of infection often include the onset of urinary incontinence, mental confusion, and worsening of existing dementia.


Influenza and pneumonia combined are the sixth leading cause of death in America, and 90 percent of those deaths occur in elderly adults. In nursing homes, coughing and sneezing cause influenza to spread quickly between residents leading to major epidemics within a short period of time. Annual flu vaccinations are routinely given to most nursing home residents to prevent the spread of the influenza virus.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Due to compromised immune systems, chronic lung diseases, and susceptibility to the fast spread of bacterial infections, nursing home residents are at higher risk for contracting bacterial pneumonia. Classic symptoms like fever, chills and coughs are less frequent in the elderly, but symptoms often present as non-respiratory symptoms like overall weakness, mental confusion and delirium. In Nevada nursing homes, a nursing home attorney sees cases where bacterial pneumonia is often misdiagnosed.

Gastrointestinal Infections

Age-related changes to digestion and gastrointestinal health put nursing home residents at increased risk of developing gastrointestinal infections. Two of the most common infections are Clostridium difficile which causes diarrhea, and Helicobacter pylori, which causes fever, abdominal pain and long-term illness such as gastritis and ulcers. Both illnesses, common in nursing homes, usually require treatment with antibiotics and drug therapies.

Preventing the Spread of Infectious Diseases

Increased risk factors and environmental exposures within nursing homes have created a major public health burden for nursing home communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is conducting health studies on the prevention and spread of infectious diseases among nursing home residents. Studies include investigations on better diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases, as well as environmental factors that create higher risks. Challenges for prevention include nursing home sanitation and cleanliness, staff education and turnover, high mortality rates among residents, as well as nursing home abuse. A nursing home attorney commonly sees personal injuries and fatalities that result from all of these factors.

  • Sanitation and Cleanliness – Studies show that sanitation and cleanliness vary significantly between nursing homes across the country. While investigations show that some homes receive excellent reports in these areas, others show gross negligence and lack of concern.
  • Staff Education and Turnover – Nursing homes are staffed with registered nurses, as well as less educated, casual part-time staff who attend to residents during nights and weekends. Studies show that nursing home turnover among staff is high, ranging from 25 percent to 150 percent each year.
  • High Resident Mortality Rates – Due to age and chronic illness, the mortality rate among nursing home residents is high. Preventing the spread of infectious diseases has a big impact on lowering annual mortality rates.
  • Nursing Home Abuse – Nursing home abuse is a growing concern. A nursing home attorney sees personal injuries to residents that range from bruises and abrasions to broken bones and head trauma. Intentional harm, as well as negligence by nursing home staff, accounts for thousands of resident injuries and fatalities in the U.S. each year.

According to the CDC, nursing home residents represent a growing segment of the population that is particularly vulnerable and susceptible to infectious diseases. Given the large senior population across the country, there is a public health need to investigate infectious diseases among the elderly in nursing home environments. If you or a family member was seriously injured in a nursing home, or you lost a loved one, call a Las Vegas injury attorney at Cogburn Law Offices today for a free case consultation.