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Article Reminds Pennsylvania Nursing Homes to Beware of Spreading Viruses in Winter

As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I know nursing homes can be a breeding ground for disease outbreaks when staff members aren’t careful. So I was very interested in a Dec. 29 article in the Allentown Morning Call reminding nursing homes and hospitals that we’ve entered the worst time of the year for noroviruses. Norovirus is the scientific name for the type of virus that causes gastroenteritis, known more colloquially as stomach bugs. In the first three months of 2010, the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority said, nursing homes reported nearly twice as many cases of norovirus as they did for the entire rest of the year. Outbreaks are also a risk at hospitals, the article noted, but the risk is much higher at nursing homes. Hospital outbreaks affected an average of six people, the authority said, whereas nursing home outbreaks affected an average of 25.

Norovirus is spread by fecal contamination of food and water, person-to-person contact or contact with contaminated surfaces. Part of the reason outbreaks are more common in nursing homes, said the article, is that people live in nursing homes, often in close quarters. That means they can’t easily be quarantined, the way they could in a hospital. In addition, the article noted, a norovirus tends to affect nursing home patients more dramatically. In healthy adults, infection means 2-3 days of vomiting, diarrhea and general misery. In older people, this can cause life-threatening dehydration and be complicated by any underlying health problem. Not surprisingly, experts say the best way to prevent outbreaks is by washing hands thoroughly and wiping down surfaces often. Many nursing homes also ask workers to stay home until they are completely recovered from illness.

As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I know these are the same guidelines that health care facilities — including nursing homes — should always implement. The reminder is important, however, because it’s very easy for staff members to cut corners when they don’t see the danger. Failure to wash hands, wipe down tables, change sheets, etc. often enough isn’t just unpleasant to look at or think about — it can actually cause serious health problems in a population of older and sick nursing home patients. For someone with a compromised immune system, a norovirus that a healthier person might shake off can lead to hospitalization or even death.

When this happens because of the negligence of a nursing home or its staff members, victims and their families can and should hold the home responsible for the pain, suffering and financial costs it caused. Our Philadelphia injury lawyers help victims recover those and other costs through a nursing home negligence lawsuit. If you’d like to know more, or set up a free, confidential case evaluation, please contact us through the Internet or call 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 toll-free today.

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