Nursing Home Staph Infection

There is an ever-increasing population of elderly that reside in nursing homes in the United States. While most of these managed care facilities are fine places for your aged loved ones, understaffed and poorly-funded nursing homes can have a negative impact on the health and safety of residents; one of the most dangerous – and dangerously common – problems facing nursing home residents is the spread of staph infections.

What It Is and What It Does

Staph infections are caused by bacteria that are often carried around without issue by healthy individuals. They commonly reside on the skin or even within the nose, but rarely cause more than an occasional or relatively minor skin infection; however, people with weakened immune systems – often from already being ill – can contract staph infections that travel deeper than the skin into the bloodstream, the bones and their joints, or even into major organs such as the lungs or the heart, especially if the infection spreads through the blood.

Because staph infections can affect so many different parts of the body it can be hard to list symptoms. Skin infections are usually characterized by rashes like impetigo or boils, often accompanied by a fever. Many cases of food poisoning are also caused by staph infections, though these usually run their course in around half a day; more serious conditions like blood poisoning (bacteremia) are characterized by a fever and low blood pressure. Staph infections can also cause septic arthritis, which usually but not always targets the knees of a patient.

Nursing Home Settings

Because the majority of staph infection research has been done in hospital settings, there is little in the way of solid evidence how nursing home staph infections spread besides obvious methods such as improper care and lack of clean, sterilized environments. While staph infections are routinely treated by antibiotics such as penicillin, there are new, antibiotic-resistant staph strains like MRSA that are becoming much more prevalent in both hospitals and nursing homes alike.

It could be the over-prescription of antibiotics in nursing home environments that could be helping to spread resistant strains of staph, according to at least one recent scientific study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The scientists involved in the study say that around 1 out of every 10 nursing home residents is on antibiotics at any given time, and that more than half receive a prescription for antibiotics at least once a year – even though a large proportion of these uses might not be appropriate. The researchers say that it’s this over-prescription of antibiotics that is opening the door for resistant staph strains like MRSA to become so prevalent in nursing homes.

How to Curtail and Control

The scientists from the JAMA study suggest that antibiotic stewardship, which involves moderating the amount of antibiotics prescribed to nursing home residents, may actually help control the spread of staph, especially MRSA and other resistant strains. However, this is unlikely to be enough to curtail staph infections entirely in nursing home environments, simply because the real problem is germ transmission in the first place.

Increasing the amount of sterilization and instituting more rigorous infection control practices, including better training for nursing home staff, is one way to reduce exposure before a staph infection can take hold. However, with many nursing homes having little in the way of isolation facilities or experience in limiting the spread of communicable diseases, there may need to be a major sea change in how these nursing homes are administrated before staph infections can be minimized or eliminated.