Nursing homes see over 1,000 cases of gastroenteritis a year

Gastroenteritis is a very serious disease that can leave many elderly nursing home patients at risk of serious illness or death. Nursing-home residents, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are also some of the hardest hit when it comes to norovirus, another name for the disease. Despite these facts, it is a nursing home's responsibility to protect its residents from this and any illness by keeping the facility clean, keeping sick residents from the healthier population and properly sanitizing anything that may have become germ-ridden. Failing to do so could be seen as general nursing home negligence in New York.

A recent study of 308 Medicare-certified nursing homes sought to record outbreaks of norovirus amongst their residents. The researchers investigated any nursing home that had one or more confirmed cases of norovirus, as well as suspected cases of the illness. Sadly, the study found that there were 407 separate incidents of gastroenteritis outbreaks. During an outbreak, 7 percent of the facility would die and 29 would need to be hospitalized for care.

A typical norovirus outbreak lasts 13 days, on average.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult to track gastroenteritis outbreaks is because of the difficulty in successfully diagnosing patients for the disease. It is unclear, however, what is hindering facilities from making the diagnoses and whether advanced medical care within the facility may reduce the number affected by an outbreak.

It is also unknown whether better cleaning and sanitization procedures would help protect residents from catching this potentially deadly disease. It would certainly not be detrimental to improve nursing home procedures regarding contamination and exposure, however.

Putting a family member in a New York nursing home is an extremely difficult decision to make. There are so many questions that families must answer before choosing to leave a sick or elderly loved one with professionals who are better suited to look after their needs, but the most important is likely what procedures a nursing home has in place to protect residents from illnesses like norovirus.

Source: United Press International, "Gastroenteritis common in nursing homes," Oct. 21, 2012

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