Via Reuters, a very big story: How hospitals, nursing homes keep deadly 'superbug' outbreaks secret. Excerpt from a must-read:
ROSWELL, New Mexico – The outbreak started in January 2014.
That’s when a resident of the Casa Maria nursing home here was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile, a highly contagious and potentially deadly “superbug” that plagues hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities.
By the end of February, six more Casa Maria residents were suffering from the infection, characterized by fever, abdominal cramps and violent diarrhea.
Under New Mexico regulations, healthcare facilities must report a suspected outbreak of C. difficile to the state Health Department within 24 hours.
But Casa Maria staff did not contact authorities until March 4, 2014, according to the Health Department report on its investigation of the outbreak, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. By then, nine of the nursing home’s 86 residents had active infections.
Still, Casa Maria downplayed the emergency. The employee who contacted the authorities asked for information on how to handle “a few cases of C. difficile,” according to the report, but “stated it was not an outbreak."
When a Health Department staffer called Casa Maria the next day to follow up, the nursing home again denied it had an outbreak.
By June, the outbreak was over. Fifteen residents had been infected, and eight were dead. The public was never informed — until now.
“The medical profession should have been able to pick up that it was C. diff and notified the community,” said Ernie Lopez, manager of a local fast-food restaurant.
His mother, Della Baker, entered Casa Maria in December 2013, after three hospital stays for severe diarrhea and a stroke that had paralyzed her left side and rendered her mute.
Several weeks after Baker arrived at Casa Maria, nurses told Lopez that his mother’s unrelenting diarrhea was caused by C. difficile.
New Mexico health officials, citing privacy laws, declined to say whether Baker caught the infection at Casa Maria or was one of several infected patients that investigators found had been transferred to the nursing home from five other healthcare facilities in New Mexico and Texas.
Baker died on March 17, 2014, age 95.
The outbreak and the way it was handled expose what a Reuters investigation found to be dangerous flaws in U.S. efforts to control the spread of superbug infections. An examination of cases across the country reveals a system that protects the healthcare facilities where superbugs thrive, while leaving patients, their families and the broader public ignorant of potentially deadly threats.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are sickened and tens of thousands die from infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and C. difficile, a pathogen linked to long-term antibiotic use. Timely reporting of outbreaks of these infections is essential to stopping the spread of disease and saving lives, public health experts and patient advocates say.
Yet the United States lacks a unified nationwide system for reporting and tracking outbreaks. Instead, a patchwork of state laws and guidelines, inconsistently applied, tracks clusters of the deadly infections that the federal government 15 years ago labeled a grave threat to public health.