Nursing home abuse

The Dangers of The Flu and Other Viruses in Hospitals and Nursing Homes

October 11, 2022 by Carrie Capouellez
The Dangers of The Flu and Other Viruses in Hospitals and Nursing Homes

The flu is a fairly common sickness that affects countless people each year. As each flu season approaches, it seems we are inundated with ads reminding us to get a flu shot and to be aware of those who may be sick with the flu. During this time of year, we also see recommendations to look out for those who might be more susceptible to falling ill. This often includes young children, the elderly, and those who have compromised immune systems and can more easily catch the flu. However, one can only imagine what can happen when the elderly become sick inside nursing homes and care facilities where people with compromised immune systems surround them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously declared the increase in flu cases across the U.S. an epidemic; however, it wasn’t always just the number of flu cases that alarmed experts, but the severity of cases. While many people overcome the flu on their own, some strains of the flu and other viruses are known for being particularly dangerous.

For example, in the first month of 2018, over 20 people across the U.S. died from the flu. While babies, the elderly, or individuals with health problems are at a greater risk of serious injury from the flu, anyone can suffer serious complications. This is why anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should see a doctor, particularly if the symptoms came on very quickly. Doctors can prescribe medications that can help prevent serious complications.

Flu Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose

Although the flu is easy to diagnose and treat, some patients will suffer serious complications as a result of the actions or inactions of their doctors and other healthcare professionals. Like us, doctors might not always take each flu case as seriously as they should. If you feel like your doctor is not addressing your concerns, you should immediately seek a second opinion. Some individuals will need more than standard medical treatment to fight the flu. If doctors fail to administer appropriate care in a timely manner, they can be held legally responsible.

Hospitals Contain Deadly Viruses

If the flu or another virus makes you sick enough, you might wind up in the hospital. Hospitals are often places we think of as clean, germ-free facilities where we can recover from an injury or illness without the risk of contracting something else. We expect to get better rather than worse if we need to be admitted to the hospital. As hospital infection lawyers, we know this doesn’t always happen.

Hospitals commonly contain adenoviruses, which are common viruses that can cause a range of symptoms and illnesses according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The viruses can cause cold-like symptoms, such as sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and even pink eye. However, adenovirus can pose serious complications, particularly to those with weakened immune systems, respiratory issues, and cardiac disease.

According to the CDC, adenoviruses are normally spread from an infected person to others through close personal contact, through the air, or by touching an object or surface with adenoviruses on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands.

Flu Season in Nursing Homes

Those who are older, with weaker immune systems, may also have a lower protective immune response after flu vaccination as compared to younger, healthier people. This is just one of the reasons why flu season in nursing homes is so dangerous. The numbers simply don’t lie:

  • Around 70 to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people 65 years and older.
  • Between 54 and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations occur among those 65 years and older.

While influenza is one of the leading infections preventable by vaccines in nursing homes, it’s not always the flu that causes the tragic deaths of residents. Nursing home residents and other elderly patients age 65 and older with severe underlying illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease, are more likely to develop one of these three common flu-related illnesses:

  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection that causes the small air sacs of the lungs to fill with fluid or pus. This can be the most common route to death for flu victims.
  • Sepsis: Sepsis is a serious medical condition characterized by inflammation spread throughout the entire body. Sepsis happens as a result of a severe infection. According to health officials, four types of infections are often linked with sepsis: lungs (pneumonia), kidney (urinary tract infection), skin, and gut. Unfortunately, there is no single symptom of sepsis.
  • Heart attack: Chances of a heart attack can increase six-fold during the first seven days after a flu infection.

The CDC suggests all nursing homes and elder care facilities have a flu care strategy in place, as well as a flu outbreak prevention plan. If a plan is ultimately foiled due to a lack of staffing or neglect of addressing flu-related complications, families can hold the facilities accountable for any injuries caused.

The Importance of Quality Nursing Home Care During an Outbreak

Since the onset of the COVID-19 virus, many specialized elder care centers across the country have faced the crisis of controlling and caring for patients amidst an outbreak. The novel coronavirus pandemic raised the question of how long-term care facilities should manage patient safety during an infectious outbreak.

Nursing homes and extended care facilities are similar to hospitals in that they care for vulnerable patients who are more susceptible to infections and viruses due to weakened immune systems and/or preexisting or underlying health conditions. Given the average patient’s overall health and the dense environment of a nursing home facility, taking measures to protect and care for patients during an outbreak is crucial. Infectious bacteria and viruses are common in nursing home facilities; however, by practicing proper sanitation and hygiene, the overall impact could be diminished which would save patients’ lives.

Appropriate nursing home quality measures include routine safety and hygienic training for staff in addition to a routine deep cleaning of the facility, including air ducts and air filters that when left unmaintained could spread bacteria. Changing patients’ bed linens, clothing, and sanitary napkins or diapers can help maintain a clean and comfortable environment. Additionally, staff should always practice personal hygiene before and after interacting with each patient.

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities should provide patients with daily oral hygiene and the routine cleaning and changing of susceptible medical equipment such as catheters. Neglecting medical equipment patients use increases the risk of infection.

Common Nursing Home Infections

Nursing home facilities should take additional action for both patients and staff during outbreaks to minimize the impact of infection. An estimated two million reported cases of infection occur at nursing homes across the country annually, on average. The most common infections in a nursing home or long-term care facility include:

  • Respiratory infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Soft-tissue infections
  • Skin infections
  • Influenza
  • Gastroenteritis

Respiratory infections and gastroenteritis are the deadliest among patients. Nursing home residents account for 10 to 18 percent of the individuals hospitalized for pneumonia, with poor oral hygiene being just one reason for this overwhelming number of cases. Dental plaque builds up and increases bacteria that can spread pneumonia. At least one study found nearly 58 percent of all nursing home patients had poor dental hygiene care. Understaffing contributes to this problem in nursing homes and long-term care centers.

Unfortunately, nursing homes across the country are historically understaffed, leading to a variety of severe problems for patients and their loved ones. Nursing home facilities that are unable to provide adequate and quality care to patients put the lives of those in their care at risk. A lack of staff means patients receive less one-on-one care and less total overall care. This is crucial in caring for high-risk and vulnerable patients, especially those who cannot care for themselves by brushing their teeth, showering, or using the restroom. When these basic routines are neglected, patients are at a greater risk of contracting infections and not receiving proper care in time to treat an illness.

Philadelphia Hospital Negligence and Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys

Families trust hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities will give their loved one’s quality medical care. Sadly, however, the most vulnerable among us are taken advantage of due to their inability to speak out against neglect and abuse. There is no excuse for a low standard of care. If you or someone you love suffered injuries as the result of hospital negligence, a flu misdiagnosis in a Philadelphia hospital, or nursing home neglect, the experienced medical malpractice lawyers at Lopez McHugh LLP can explain your options. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your situation.

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