More than a third of nursing home residents were found to be carriers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, in a study conducted by Melbourne researchers.
Scientists from Monash University swabbed more than 100 residents from four high-care facilities across the city.
More than half of those residents carrying the bug had received antibiotics in the three months before being tested.
Monash University’s Associate Professor Anton Peleg said antibiotics were being overused and the study showed it could lead to higher rates of superbugs.
“They do have consequences and the consequences of overuse, or inappropriate use, is the development of these antibiotic resistant bacteria,” Professor Peleg said
“They aren’t the safety net that we think they are.
“Residents need high level care and are much more difficult to clinically assess.
“There are other challenges with medical staff not being available to review the patients, and so this leads to more antibiotic use.”
One in five of the residents tested also had extended stays in hospital and Professor Peleg said this could put other patients at risk.
Professor Peleg said there needed to be “a multi-pronged approach” to address the problem, focusing on preventing initial infection and also the use of antibiotics.
“It highlights the need to set up systems to measure antibiotic resistance and antibiotic use in nursing homes,” he said.
“(Our concern is) that nursing homes are acting as a kind of reservoir, if you like, of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“We know these residents have fairly frequent movement in and out of acute care institutions, and this obviously poses risks to acute care hospitals for transmission.
“It could be transmitted to other patients in an acute care hospital, if the resident actually has an infection they might be infected with a more resistant bacteria – they’re the two main concerns.”
Professor Peleg said an ageing population meant antibiotic resistance in older Australians could become a growing problem.
But he said hygiene practices in nursing homes created a unique challenge when compared to hospitals.
“Infection control in a nursing home is completely different. This is a living environment, there are shared facilities, there are group activities,” he said.
“It is much more challenging than in a hospital environment to prevent infection and transmission, but I think this highlights that, particularly for some of these higher risk residents, efforts need to be more focused on them, given the limited resources we have for nursing homes.”
He said carpets were one of the reasons nursing homes were more difficult to keep bacteria-free.
“Someone needs to be living there and be comfortable in that environment,” Professor Peleg added.
“Carpet can harbour bacteria for a long period of time. And then the cleaning practices on carpet are much more challenging to get rid of any bacteria, compared to lino, where you can bleach and other things.
“Environmental cleaning is a real focus in hospitals and this prevents transmission of these bacteria, however this is not practical for nursing homes.”
He said there is a need to improve education and training for resident care staff, families and doctors on the best use of antibiotics for those nursing home residents.