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Nursing Homes Fail To Use Isolation Procedures for Residents Infected By Superbugs: Study

Very few nursing homes follow the recommended isolation precautions for residents with multi-drug resistant infections, which may place other nursing home residents at risk of the serious and potentially life-threatening “superbug” infections, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published last month in the The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers at the Columbia University School of Nursing found that isolation procedures were used on only about 13% of all nursing hom infection cases involving drug-resistant strains.

Isolation precautions can include placing nursing home residents in private rooms, or having them wear protective clothing. These steps are designed to prevent the spread of infections by so-called “superbugs,” which resist multiple types of antibiotics and can be particularly dangerous for the elderly, as well as those with compromised immune systems.

The study involved nearly 200,000 nursing home residents with multidrug-resistant organism (MDRO) infections between October 2010 and December 2013.

According to the findings, only 12.8% of nursing home residents with superbug infections received isolation precautions. Of the 11,773 nursing homes involved in the study, 69% did not report ever having used such isolation precautions.

Nursing homes that had received a quality-of-care citation, meaning they were more likely to be linked to incidents of nursing home neglect or abuse, were even less likely to have used isolation precautions than other facilities. However, facilities cited within the previous year were more likely to use isolation procedures, suggesting that such citations have a positive effect in improving infection control procedures.

“Isolation was infrequently used, and the proportion of isolated MDRO infections varied between facilities,” the researchers determined. “Inspection citations were related to isolation use in the following year. Further research is needed to determine whether and when isolation should be used to best decrease risk of MDRO transmission and improve quality of care.”

A 2011 study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that about 15% of U.S. nursing homes are cited every year for poor infection control. The study also found that there was a strong link between nursing home staffing levels and infection citations.

A study published in 2013 found that nursing home residents face an increasing risk of infection from community-associated strains of one of the more common superbugs, methicillin-resistant Staphhylococcus aureus (MRSA).

MRSA infections, which are resistant to treatment by penicillin-based antibiotics, have accounted for more than 60% of hospital staph infections in recent years. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 126,000 hospital MRSA infections occur each year, resulting in about 5,000 deaths. However, some researchers suggest that the number of deaths from MRSA in the U.S. is closer to 20,000 annually.

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