Flu Vaccination of Nursing Home Staff Linked to Decline in Patient Flu Outbreaks

1239516_40897979-syringe09142011.jpgA study has identified a link between increasing rates of influenza vaccination among nursing home staff and decreasing rate of flu infection among patients. The study, which looked at 75 New Mexico nursing homes, found an 87% decrease in the likelihood of a flu outbreak in facilities where 51% to 75% of direct care workers received vaccinations. This supports earlier findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has encouraged healthcare workers to get vaccinated against the flu.

Interestingly, the study also found that high rates of vaccinations among nursing home patients led to higher odds of a flu outbreak in that home. Researchers suggest that this is due to lower rates of vaccination among staff in nursing homes with high rates of patient vaccinations. This finding would further support the conclusion that high rates of staff vaccination keeps outbreak rates low.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) currently recommends that healthcare workers obtain annual vaccinations against the flu. Their research found that only 13% of healthcare workers reported a requirement of vaccination from their employers. At the same time, a substantial majority of healthcare workers reported vaccinations being available at work, often at no charge.

Outbreaks of disease in the nursing home environment are a persistent concern. Officials at a nursing home in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania are currently fighting an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that has sickened eight people so far. A 2009 study in Ontario, Canada found that, of the 83 disease outbreaks reviewed, 91% of them occurred in long-term care facilities. A 2003 study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that one-third of the reports of infectious diseases from nursing homes involved sudden disease outbreaks. The study examined reports of respiratory infections, including influenza, tuberculosis, and pneumonia; gastrointestinal illnesses such as E. coli, salmonella and viral agents; skin infections; and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study concluded that the environment of nursing homes allows easy transmission of disease outbreaks, largely due to close living conditions, lack of proper diagnostic equipment, and the already-diminished health condition of many nursing home residents. Recommendations included greater management plans and surveillance of symptoms in patients to try to recognize diseases before they reach outbreak status.

Vaccinating nursing home staff against known contagions is an important step in this process. Nursing homes must also commit to maintaining a clean environment for its residents. Many infectious diseases can reach outbreak status in a nursing home simply due to a lapse in cleaning. Respiratory illnesses such as influenza are commonly transmitted directly from one person to another, but germs can also persist on various surfaces. An elderly individual, practically one with an already-suppressed immune system, who comes into contact with a contaminated surface risks infection.

A nursing home owes a duty of care to its patients to provide reasonable and competent care. Nursing homes must meet certain standards in providing services to its clients, and one of those standards involves a safe and reasonably clean environment. Vaccination of direct care workers and regular and diligent maintenance of all facilities, can help ensure a patient’s well-being at a nursing home.

The Maryland nursing home lawyers at Lebowitz and Mzhen, LLC protect the rights of individuals injured in nursing homes. Contact them today to schedule a free consultation.

Fewer flu outbreaks for nursing homes with vaccinated workers, study reports, McKnight’s, September 13, 2011
W. Pa. nursing home fighting Legionnaires’ cases, Houston Chronicle, September 14, 2011
Report: Flu vaccination rates among healthcare workers continue to grow, McKnight’s, August 22, 2011
CDC encourages healthcare workers to get vaccinated for flu, McKnight’s, September 14, 2010
Respiratory disease outbreaks in nursing homes, Effect Measure Blog, November 10, 2009

Web Resources:


Influenza Vaccination Coverage Among Health-Care Personnel — United States, 2010–11 Influenza Season, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Revised SHEA Position Paper: Influenza Vaccination of Healthcare Personnel, The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America
Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Nursing Homes: An Unappreciated Hazard for Frail Elderly Persons, Clinical Infectious Diseases, Vol. 36, Issue 7, 2003

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Resident Dies From Sepsis—Home Sued by Family for Negligence and Wrongful Death, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, July 22, 2011
Decubitus Ulcers and Nursing Home Negligence, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, February 14, 2011
Nursing Home Victim’s Family Hopes Wrongful Death Settlement Will Help to Educate Others, Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog, September 30, 2010

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