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Nursing Homes’ Residents Face Health Risks From Antibiotics’ Misuse

CDC says antibiotics prescribed incorrectly 75% of the time

By Lisa Gillespie, Kaiser Health News

- Antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly to ailing nursing home residents up to 75 percent of the time, the nation’s public health watchdog says. The reasons vary — wrong drug, wrong dose, wrong duration or just unnecessarily – but the consequences are scary, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Overused antibiotics over time lose their effectiveness against the infections they were designed to treat. Some already have. And some antibiotics actually cause life-threatening illnesses on their own.


The CDC last month advised all nursing homes to do more – immediately – to protect more than 4 million residents from hard-to-treat superbugs that are growing in number and resist antibiotics.

Antibiotic-resistant infections threaten everyone, but elderly people in nursing homes are especially at risk because their bodies don’t fight infections as well. The CDC counts 18 top antibiotic-resistant infections that sicken more than 2 million people a year and kill 23,000. Those infections contribute to deaths in many more cases.

The CDC is launching a public education campaign for nursing homes aimed at preventing more bacterial and viral infections from starting and stopping others from spreading. A similar effort was rolled out for hospitals last year.

“One way to keep older Americans safe from these superbugs is to make sure antibiotics are used appropriately all the time and everywhere, particularly in nursing homes,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden in announcing the initiative.

Studies have estimated antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately 40 percent to 75 percent of the time in nursing homes.

Here’s why that worries the CDC: Every time someone takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed but resistant bacteria survive and multiply – and they can spread to other people. Repeated use of antibiotics promotes the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Taking antibiotics for illnesses the drugs weren’t made to treat – such as flu and common colds – contributes to antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics also wipe out a body’s good infection-fighting bacteria along with the bad. When that occurs, infections like Clostridium difficile can get out of control. C. diff. leads to serious diarrhea that each year puts 250,000 people in the hospital and kills 15,000. If precautions aren’t taken, it can spread in hospitals and nursing homes.

This KHN story also ran in USA Today.

Some of this information is reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives and sign up for email delivery. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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