An outbreak of a rare infectious pathogen at a New Mexico nursing home has focused attention on a serious – and potentially deadly problem. In January 2014, a resident at Casa Maria Nursing Home in Roswell became infected with Clostridium difficile, a highly contagious pathogen that causes fever, abdominal cramps and violent diarrhea. The outbreak spread, infecting more residents of the facility. Despite the state’s requirement that such outbreaks be reported within 24 hours, Casa Maria management waited until March to inform New Mexico health authorities. By the time the outbreak was over in June, 15 residents had been infected, and eight were dead.
An investigative report by Reuters highlights the scope of the problem. One of its disturbing findings is the fact that many state health authorities are prohibited by law from disclosing information on the location and extent of superbug outbreaks.
The Reuters article praises the Illinois Department of Health for its transparency in publicizing superbug outbreaks in the state. It notes that since 2011 there have been 11 outbreaks of deadly bacteria and pathogens in Illinois health facilities. In each case, the public had to opportunity to learn where the outbreaks occurred and how many people were infected. A graphic in the article provides additional information on the 11 outbreaks in Illinois that have occurred since 2011.
Reporting the incidence of infections has many benefits. It informs other health care facilities when such infections occur, enabling them to take precautions when hospital patients and nursing home residents are transferred to other facilities. In an increasingly competitive health care market, public reporting also serves as a powerful incentive for health care facilities to take immediate action to quell drug-resistant pathogen infections and take measures to minimize the possibility of outbreaks.
Based on the number of bacterial and pathogen outbreaks and the efficiency with which such outbreaks have been handled, Illinois health authorities and health care facilities seem to be doing a reasonably good job at controlling the problem. However, it’s clear that eternal vigilance by all parties is necessary to prevent future infections from spreading.