Stomach Flu Outbreaks in Nursing Homes

Risks go down with more RNs and a plan in place

elderly woman being assisted by nurse

The norovirus, commonly called the stomach flu, is no fun for anyone, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and cramps. But it’s of special concern to people in nursing homes, who tend to have more severe symptoms that hang on longer.

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A new study finds that stomach flu outbreaks may cause an increased risk of hospitalization and death among people in nursing home communities.

Defining an ‘outbreak’

Geriatrician Barbara Messinger-Rapport, MD, PhD, says that during outbreaks, older people can get dehydrated very quickly and may need hydration through an IV. Recovery is slow.

“The staff gets ill as well,” says Dr. Messinger-Rapport. “They’re vomiting, have a fever, have diarrhea. But they get over it in a couple of days.”

Study details

University of Chicago researchers tracked norovirus outbreaks at more than 300 nursing homes in Oregon, Washington, and Pennsylvania in a study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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They found that during an outbreak, the chances of dying increased 12 percent compared to non-outbreak periods. The chances of being hospitalized went up 15 percent.

Researchers say the next step is to determine whether the norovirus outbreak is directly to blame for the increase.

Facilities that had a higher staffing ratio of registered nurses and enacted a plan to combat the virus tended to fare better.

Want to know about a particular facility?

Want to know about a particular facility? Dr. Messinger-Rapport says you can find out how well a nursing home is staffed through Medicare’s website.

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More information


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