MRSA Infections in Nursing Homes
Most infections caused by bacteria are treatable through antibiotics. However, one strain of a common bacteria, called Staphylococcus aureus, resists the medicine typically prescribed to kill infections.
Its name reflects this: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.
Studies point to residents returning home from a hospital stay as the most frequent origin of MRSA in nursing homes.
From there, MRSA thrives in an environment with:
- Close-quarters living
- Less strict hygienic standards
- Invasive medical devices like catheters and breathing tubes
- Weak immune systems
“A 2015 study of 13 community-based nursing homes found that around 28 percent of patients harbored MRSA.” – University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation
A staph infection generally starts out as a red bump that looks like a pimple or an insect bite.
As the infection progresses, the wound becomes:
- Filled with pus
- Warm to the touch
Because MRSA is resistant to common antibiotics, it can be much more difficult to treat and bring under control. This leaves more time for the disease to spread and create complications.
What starts as a skin sore can spread to infections in the:
Causes of MRSA in Nursing Home Residents
Several factors increase the likelihood of MRSA in a nursing home.
- MRSA can be carried by a patient without any signs or symptoms. While the host might not get sick, he or she can transmit the bacteria to others with open wounds or other entry points.
- The elderly in general have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to all infections, not just MRSA. With that said, an infection that resists treatment is doubly dangerous.
- Health care settings like nursing homes are especially prone to infections. Catheters, breathing tubes, and feeding tubes are all sources of infection, and caregivers are responsible for multiple patients. If glove etiquette and handwashing are lax, then MRSA will easily travel from patient to patient.
Signs and Symptoms of MRSA
MRSA starts out as a warm, red bump on the skin, just like any other staph infection.
As the infection grows, other symptoms may include:
- Filling with pus or other drainages
Because the elderly typically have a lifetime of antibiotic use stored up in their bodies, any MRSA that takes hold will likely be especially virulent.
Complications Related to MRSA
Early detection and treatment are critical to slowing the spread of MRSA, but the bacteria are typically not identified until it becomes more serious. More often, what starts as treating an ordinary infection takes a serious turn when the nursing home resident begins showing certain warning signs.
These warning signs include:
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of breath
By this stage, the MRSA has become entrenched in the bloodstream and infection site and will require serious treatment. It’s also likely that more serious complications are in store for the nursing home resident.
More serious complications may include:
- MRSA Osteomyelitis occurs when infection spreads into the bone. This can cause part of the bone to die or pus to infect the joint instead of leaking from the skin. Both are very painful and limit mobility.
- Pneumonia is a dangerous infection of the lungs. This becomes even more hazardous when a treatment-resistant MRSA causes the infection.
- If left unchecked, MRSA can enter the bloodstream from the original infection site. This causes serious health complications as the MRSA spreads throughout the body.
Death is a possible result of all of these complications. If left untreated, for instance, a lung infection can fill the lungs with pus until breathing becomes impossible.
Diagnosing MRSA in Nursing Home Residents
A laboratory test is necessary to confirm that MRSA is the source of a staph infection. This starts with a swab taken from the patient’s nose or skin.
Most tests take up to 48 hours to confirm MRSA, but new products in development can produce results in hours.
Preventing and Treating MRSA Infections
While MRSA is resistant to many strains of antibiotics, there are treatment options.
Treatment options are as follows:
- Complete the entire course of prescribed antibiotics. It takes an especially powerful antibiotic to eradicate MRSA, and an incomplete regimen will only help your loved one’s strain develop a new resistance.
- Surgery may be required to drain a wound’s pus or infection.
In less severe cases, a fresh, dry bandage and precautions like using gloves to change bandages will contain MRSA. However, instances of blood infections or large, open sores require the nursing home resident to remain quarantined.
Other important steps include:
- Avoiding sharing personal toiletry items, including towels and razors
- Education about correct gown and glove use
- Frequent and thorough hand washing
- Good hygiene, including regular bathing
- Proper sanitation procedures should be followed when handling sensitive medical equipment like feeding tubes and catheters
Steps for Family Members
It’s important to be proactive when interacting with health care providers.
- Ask a nurse or doctor to wash their hands in front of you if you cannot confirm they are clean.
- Follow-up on sanitation procedures for medical equipment and verify sterilization.
- Good handwashing with soap or using an alcohol-based sanitizer by family members or other visitors is strongly recommended, too.
Legal Options for MRSA Infections in Nursing Home Residents
Experts agree that long-term care facilities like nursing homes are one of the most likely places to contract a MRSA infection.
A combination of weak immune systems, an abundance of invasive medical devices, and a steady turnover of outside visitors all make it an ideal breeding ground for this staph infection.
MRSA can leave an elderly nursing home resident with permanent, long-term injuries — if it doesn’t kill them first.