Quick Answer

Gastroenteritis is the irritation and inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Residents of nursing homes are more susceptible to gastroenteritis because of weaker immune systems, poor hygiene and greater use of antibiotics which can strip the gastric system. Death from gastroenteritis is possible and residents of nursing homes are 4 times more likely to die from gastroenteritis than elderly living at home.

Gastroenteritis Explained

People over the age of 60 are more likely to be infected with gastroenteritis. The primary causes of gastroenteritis are viral and bacterial infections that result from poor hand washing or food poisoning. When nursing home residents come into contact with another person who is sick or an item recently touched by someone with infectious gastroenteritis, or if they consume contaminated food or water, they can become infected with gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis in the elderly can also be caused by an abuse of laxatives or alcohol, reactions to medication and poor hand washing. Close living arrangements in nursing homes make an ideal place for gastroenteritis to spread.

In the United States between 1994–1998, 17.5% of deaths involving gastroenteritis occurred in nursing homes.

Effects of Gastroenteritis

Symptoms of gastroenteritis last for one to three days normally but can last longer in the elderly because of a suppressed immune system.

Short-term effects of gastroenteritis include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration

Viral gastroenteritis is sometimes misdiagnosed as the flu because it typically has other symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Gastroenteritis typically clears the body in a couple of days but it can have long-term effects in some cases.

Long-term effects of gastroenteritis can occur because there is a decrease in good bacteria in the gut which creates an imbalance in the immune system. Bacterial gastroenteritis can lead to a type of irritable bowel syndrome that can take years to resolve. Other rare complications from gastroenteritis in the elderly include ulcerative colitis, aortic aneurysm or reactive arthritis in the months following an infection.

The most dangerous effect of gastroenteritis is dehydration. Residents of nursing homes are most likely fighting other diseases or ailments and are on strict diets for food and water intake. With vomiting and diarrhea as the main side effects of gastroenteritis and how easy it can spread from person or object, it creates a dangerous situation for any nursing home resident.

There are no medications available to treat viral gastroenteritis. Instead, treatment focuses on symptom management and preventing complications.

Gastroenteritis Spreads in Nursing Homes

The close living arrangements of elderly people and contact with visitors and staff make nursing homes a unique environment for the spread of infectious agents. In addition, centralized preparation and service of food to nursing home residents has inherent risks for transmission of food-borne agents.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America practice guidelines for gastroenteritis emphasizing supportive treatment and rehydration, which may be difficult in nursing home residents.

Death can result from gastroenteritis in nursing home residents. It is incredibly important that the symptoms are caught and treated early.

If you or a loved one has suffered from gastroenteritis in a nursing home legal assistance is available. Please complete a free case evaluation here.