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US Nursing Homes See Rise in Hepatitis, Pneumonia Rates

Update Date: Oct 08, 2014 01:53 PM EDT

The rate of nursing home residents getting infected with hepatitis has increased by an astonishing 48 percent in the past half-decade.

Furthermore, infection rates for pneumonia, urinary tract infections, septicemia, wound infections, and multiple drug-resistant organisms (MDROs) have also increased in nursing homes across America. 

The increasing number of seniors getting infected in nursing homes is worrying health experts, who believe more actions should be taken to protect residents.

The five-year study from Columbia University School of Nursing looked at infections in American nursing homes. Researchers found that prevalence of viral hepatitis increased by an overwhelming 48 percent. The rate of UTI, which is by far the most common infection in nursing homes, increased by 1 percent, pneumonia rates increased by 11 percent, and infections caused by multiple drug-resistant organisms increased by 18 percent.

"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," lead researcher Carolyn Herzig, MS, project director of the Prevention of Nosocomial Infections & Cost Effectiveness in Nursing Homes (PNICE-NH) study at Columbia Nursing, said in a news release. "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."

Researchers said that these most of the infections are preventable. For example UTIs can be prevented by decreasing the use of urinary catheters and increasing the frequency of assisted trips to the toilet or diaper changes. Easy access to sanitizer or soap and water to promote hand hygiene can decrease the risk of pneumonia.

"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."

Routine screenings for C. difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) could also stop the spread of MDROs.

"Isolation is a common way to contain MRSA and other infections in hospitals, but in nursing homes this isn't as common because these facilities are tailored to residential needs. If the nursing home does have rooms for isolation, it suggests a more robust approach to infection prevention and control," researchers concluded.

The findings will be presented at IDWeek 2014 in Philadelphia. 

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