Gastroenteritis in Nursing Homes

Gastroenteritis results from an inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Gastroenteritis in elderly individuals can result in potentially life-threatening complications. If you or your loved one has been diagnosed with gastroenteritis in a nursing home, this may result from abuse or neglect. Contact Nursing Homes Abuse to get the legal help you need.

Elder with Gastroenteritis

Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities may be at a higher risk of exposure to infectious diseases. Infections among nursing home residents generally arise from close physical contact with other residents and high vulnerability due to weakened immune systems. However, in some cases, nursing home injuries and infections result from neglect by nursing home staff

One common type of infection that can affect nursing home residents is gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis in elderly individuals can be particularly dangerous, and nursing homes must take proper steps to prevent outbreaks. Neglect and malfeasance on the part of the nursing home can lead to significant gastroenteritis outbreaks among residents, putting lives at risk. 

If you or a loved one has been affected by a case of gastroenteritis in a nursing home, you need the best legal tools. Nursing Homes Abuse is a leading resource for anyone who has developed an infection or injury from neglect and abuse in a nursing home.

What Is Gastroenteritis?

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract tissue resulting from an infection. Inflammation in the digestive system triggers the body’s natural immune response to induce vomiting and diarrhea, thus combating the infection. Gastroenteritis is commonly called the “stomach flu” when presenting as an outbreak. 

However, gastroenteritis has no relation to the influenza virus. Rather, gastroenteritis typically results from different types of viruses and bacteria that enter a person’s body via physical contact with an infected individual, consuming contaminated foods, or contact with a contaminated surface.

What Are the Symptoms of Gastroenteritis?

The three most common symptoms of gastroenteritis are:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps

More severe cases of gastroenteritis may cause:

  • High fever
  • Bloody stool
  • Dehydration

Symptoms generally start 24 to 72 hours after infection.

What Are Common Causes of Gastroenteritis in the Elderly?

The most common cause of gastroenteritis in both the elderly and the general population is a virus known as “norovirus.” Noroviruses are highly contagious and can spread quickly in populations close to each other. In these cases, norovirus spreads through physical contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, usually through direct physical contact or contact with a surface the infected person has touched. 

Outbreaks of norovirus in nursing homes often result from inadequate hygiene protocols. Exposure to vomit or fecal matter from an infected person puts you at a much higher risk of contracting norovirus. Once infected, you will likely develop vomiting and diarrhea, which spreads the virus to others.

Bacterial infections of the stomach and intestines can also cause gastroenteritis in the elderly. Bacterial gastroenteritis is often the result of foodborne illness, also known as “food poisoning.” Bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli can contaminate inadequately stored or prepared food. Once you consume this food, the bacteria infects your digestive system and triggers gastroenteritis.

Nursing home gastric diseases are a particularly big risk for older individuals since nursing homes usually prepare food in a central kitchen. Unfortunately, the nursing home will likely serve the food to most or all residents before catching the contamination, causing a large outbreak of foodborne gastroenteritis.

Is Gastroenteritis Contagious in Nursing Homes?

Gastroenteritis is highly contagious in most populations that it affects. Viral gastroenteritis caused by norovirus is particularly contagious because a person can become sick following exposure to a very small amount of norovirus pathogens. Vomiting and diarrhea cause more norovirus pathogens to spread into the environment. 

Nursing home residents are often in close contact with one another throughout the day and frequently have physical contact with surfaces other residents have touched. This dramatically increases the chances of exposure to norovirus in a nursing home if even one resident is infected.

Additionally, nursing home staff are at a greater risk of contracting norovirus because of their heightened contact with residents, bodily fluids, and contaminated surfaces. Once norovirus infects a nursing home staff member, they can quickly spread it to residents with whom they later come into contact. 

Foodborne bacterial gastroenteritis can also be highly contagious in a nursing home without adequate food safety among the kitchen staff. Bacteria can proliferate on food if kept in a warm, damp environment. Vomiting and diarrhea caused by consuming contaminated food will spread the bacteria to other surfaces, increasing the risk of infection for others.

How Long Does Gastroenteritis Last in the Elderly?

In healthy adults, gastroenteritis symptoms usually only last for a day or two, while the infectious period may only last around a week. However, elderly and immunocompromised individuals may experience symptoms that last longer. The exact duration of gastroenteritis in elderly individuals depends on factors including their preexisting health, medication side effects, and the type of infection they experience. 

If an older adult has additional chronic health issues that affect their immune system, a case of gastroenteritis can last up to ten days. Some medications, such as antibiotics, can weaken a nursing home resident’s immune system and prolong a gastroenteritis infection.

Complications of Diarrhea in Older Adults

While healthy adults usually recover quickly from gastroenteritis in a day or two, older adults may be at higher risk. Diarrhea, in particular, poses a greater risk to older individuals since it can cause dehydration if left untreated. Dehydration can weaken an immune system, making an older adult more vulnerable to other infections and health issues.

It’s essential to treat gastroenteritis and other bowel infections in elderly adults with constant rehydration. If an infected individual cannot swallow liquids without vomiting, nursing home medical staff must provide IV fluids to prevent potentially fatal dehydration.

Is Gastroenteritis Preventable in Elderly Residents?

Prevention of gastroenteritis and other types of digestive and stool infections in elderly residents requires proactive hygiene and care from the nursing home staff. If possible, nursing home residents who experience symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea must remain isolated from asymptomatic residents. Staff who come into contact with symptomatic residents must wear protective gloves and masks to reduce their risk of infection. Additionally, thoroughly cleaning exposed surfaces will help remove any lingering virus particles and prevent others from contacting them. 

Nursing home food services must follow strict food safety guidelines to prevent foodborne illness among residents. All perishable foods must be properly refrigerated and sealed to prevent contamination. Kitchen and food services staff must practice proper hygiene, such as always washing their hands after using the bathroom. Any staff who experiences symptoms of gastroenteritis must not come into contact with any food served to residents.

Gastroenteritis and Nursing Home Neglect

Neglect in nursing homes can result in outbreaks of gastroenteritis. An outbreak of norovirus in a nursing home can result from inadequate hygiene and cleaning protocols by the staff. Residents who experience symptoms may not be separated or quarantined from other residents, which may contribute to the spread of the disease. 

Symptomatic residents may experience medical neglect when the staff does not adequately treat their gastroenteritis. If a resident with severe diarrhea doesn’t receive IVs or adequate fluids, they risk fatal dehydration. Nursing home kitchen staff may also be negligent in adhering to proper food safety protocols. This can include failing to store perishable foods safely, practicing necessary hygiene, or following public health information about potentially contaminated food products.

Legal Action If Your Loved One Suffered From an Infection

Gastroenteritis and other nursing home infections in nursing home residents can be deadly. If you or a loved one has suffered from gastroenteritis in a nursing home, and you suspect nursing home neglect as the cause, you need to know your legal options. 

Contact Nursing Homes Abuse for the best legal information and resources. Get the compensation you deserve and prevent infections such as this from happening in the future.

Fact Checked

Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.