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Respiratory Infections From Nursing Home Neglect

Respiratory Infections in the Nursing Home

Quick Answer

Pneumonia and lower respiratory tract infections are the leading cause of death in nursing home residents. Thirty-three out of every 1000 residents will become infected with pneumonia. Respiratory infections represent about one-third of all nursing home infections.

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Respiratory Infections Explained

Respiratory infections in nursing home residents can affect the nose, throat, and lungs. They often start out as minor illnesses and quickly become more severe.

In many cases, respiratory infections are first diagnosed as conditions like:

  • Bronchitis
  • Flu
  • Laryngitis
  • Sinus infection

These conditions can develop into something more severe like pneumonia if left untreated. They can even lead to life-threatening illnesses.

Untreated respiratory infections may be a sign of nursing home neglect. If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries or died from a nursing home respiratory infection, get a free case review. Compensation may be available.

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Respiratory Infections in Nursing Homes Are Contagious

Nursing homes are a breeding ground for infection. Residents share common surfaces and spaces for dining and social activities.

Additionally, lots of visitors and staff come and go from nursing homes while the residents stay in the same shared space. This presents a perfect opportunity for a nursing home infection to spread rapidly.

There are multiple ways infections can spread in nursing homes. The frequency and variety of visitors to the nursing home is one. Another is how well the nursing home is maintained and cleaned regularly, especially during flu season.

Did You Know

If a nursing home is not properly sanitized and infections are allowed to spread, it may be a sign that the facility is failing to keep residents safe.

Respiratory infections like pneumonia are difficult to diagnose in the elderly as symptoms like a fever might not be present early on. The best way to detect a respiratory infection is through an X-ray, which typically requires a visit to a hospital.

Common Respiratory Infection Causes

Respiratory infections have multiple possible causes and can be passed between residents, staff, or visitors. The following factors put nursing home residents at risk of developing respiratory infections.


When a respiratory infection comes from residents, it’s often from tuberculosis — a highly contagious bacterial infection. 57% of tuberculosis deaths globally were people over the age of 50. More than half of those deaths were people over 65. Diabetic nursing home residents are at triple the risk of tuberculosis.

Recurrence of tuberculosis in the elderly is also common. This occurs when old tuberculosis lesions become active again.

Infections Pass Between Visitors, Staff, and Residents

Many nursing home residents receive visitors who may carry contagious bacteria and viruses that get passed on to residents. Doctors and staff working with other patients and hospitals can easily transmit infections as well.

The correlation between nursing home staff and patients that contract respiratory infections is high. Staff in nursing homes often work with multiple patients and move from room to room, making it easy to transmit germs from patient to patient.

Did You Know

The rate of respiratory infection drops drastically if more patients and staff receive their flu shot.

Shared Surfaces and Poor Hygiene Practices

Respiratory infections spread through large respiratory droplets. The most common way the droplets spread is through human-to-human contact (both directly and indirectly). If staff members have not been properly trained in hygiene practices, they can directly contribute to an outbreak.

Did You Know

Hygiene care extends to the welfare of each resident, not just the facility. For example, inadequate oral care significantly increases the risk of pneumonia.

When simple protocols like washing hands are not followed, staff and residents may suffer from poor hygiene — and this can allow respiratory infections to spread rapidly.

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Common Respiratory Infections Among Residents

Different types of respiratory infections are caused by different bacteria or viruses.

The most common respiratory infections are caused by:

  • C. pneumonia
  • Influenza viruses
  • Mycobacterium tuberculosis
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Pneumococci
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

While influenza outbreaks can occur at any time in a nursing home, they are more common during the winter months. Influenza also ranks among the most commonly reported infectious disease outbreaks in nursing homes.

Did You Know

90% of influenza deaths are in people aged 65 and older.

Symptoms of Respiratory Infection in Residents

Respiratory infections can interfere with normal breathing. The infections attack the upper respiratory tract, which extends from the sinuses to the vocal cords. Respiratory infections may also affect the lower respiratory system, from the vocal cords to the lungs.

Common symptoms of respiratory infection in the elderly include:

  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Ear inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Hoarseness
  • Irritated tonsils
  • Loss of smell
  • Phlegm
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Sinus pain
  • Sneezing
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Wheezing

Upper respiratory infections can result from a common cold or ear infection. A lower respiratory infection can result from bronchitis or pneumonia.

Respiratory Infection Outcomes

Nursing home residents who contract respiratory infections can make a full recovery if treated properly. Proper treatment requires that nursing home staff follow clean and healthy protocols and monitor patients closely for signs. A low fever or mild cough can quickly turn into something more if not addressed immediately.

Re-infection can also occur when there are multiple residents infected at the same time. The frequency of visitors and the time of year are also heavy factors in respiratory infection. If a resident is re-infected, it could be a sign that the environment is not being kept clean or the staff is not following proper care protocols.

Chronic infections occur when residents suffer from pre-existing health problems like diabetes or when staff is neglecting to follow cleanliness protocols like washing hands after working with a resident. Staff neglect can also result from not monitoring residents properly for symptoms, meaning residents won’t get prompt treatment for respiratory infections.

Lawsuits Regarding Respiratory Infections in Nursing Home Residents

Without proper care, respiratory infections in nursing home residents can quickly become severe or life-threatening.

Sadly, one fatal case involved an 82-year-old resident who had fluid buildup in the lungs. When the nursing staff failed to adequately treat the fluid buildup, the resident developed an upper respiratory infection. Left untreated, the patient eventually passed away from aspiration pneumonia, which is when food or other substances are inhaled into the lungs.

If you believe a loved one has suffered from neglect or abuse that resulted in respiratory infection or death, get a free case review. Our team can help you get financial compensation for the harm done.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team
Julie Rivers HeadshotReviewed by:Julie Rivers, MBA

Eldercare Advocate & Expert

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Julie Rivers is an eldercare advocate with over 15 years of dedicated service to victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Her journey in this field became deeply personal when she assumed the role of an unpaid caregiver during her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

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“Nursing Homes and Infection Control: The Most Common Infections”. EOS Surfaces. Retrieved from Accessed on September 24, 2018.

“Prevalence and characteristics of nursing home-acquired infections in the aged”. NCBI. Retrieved from Accessed on September 24, 2018.

“Viral respiratory infections in a nursing home: a six-month prospective study”. NCBI. Retrieved from Accessed on September 24, 2018.

“What are the signs of an upper respiratory infection?” Medical News Today. Retrieved from Accessed on September 24, 2018.