NJ Nursing Home Suffers Gastrointestinal Illness Outbreak

gastrointestinal illness outbreak

A New Jersey nursing home is recovering from a gastrointestinal illness outbreak.  The 110-bed facility first reported the outbreak in December 2019.   Outbreaks like this one serve as reminders of why infection prevention and control are so important in nursing homes. 

New Jersey Nursing Home Gastrointestinal Illness Outbreak

In December 2019, Paramus nursing home CareOne at Ridgewood Avenue reported a gastrointestinal illness outbreak among patients.  CareOne serves patients in need of long-term care, rehabilitation and respite care. 

The outbreak started suddenly when several patients began experiencing diarrhea and vomiting.  CareOne notified the Paramus Board of Health’s Communicable Disease Service, which offers support for outbreak prevention and containment. 

The facility worked alongside the Paramus Board of Health to address the illness and contain it.  It appears that CareOne followed guidelines and was able to quickly gain control of the situation.  To help contain the outbreak, the facility served patients food on Styrofoam dishes and served meals in patient rooms rather than in the dining area.  Staff members limited resident contact and movement and increased environmental cleaning practices. 

Are Gastrointestinal Illness Outbreaks Dangerous?

Nursing homes are vulnerable to illness and infection outbreaks because residents share the same space, food and staff.  If one person gets sick with a contagious bacteria or virus, it can be easily transmitted to others.  For this reason, nursing homes must have proper infection control policies in place to detect, manage and contain infectious outbreaks. 

Gastrointestinal illness outbreaks in nursing homes are particularly concerning because elderly individuals often experience more serious illness and complications.  While younger adults may experience discomfort and frustrating symptoms, elderly individuals can experience serious complications. 

Among the elderly, gastrointestinal illness can cause much more than uncomfortable symptoms.  These individuals often experience:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Vomiting

Elderly individuals also often experience dehydration, which can be serious or life-threatening.  Nursing home staff members must ensure that residents are properly hydrated, especially if there is a gastrointestinal illness outbreak.  Severe dehydration can cause:

  • Weakening of the immune system
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Pneumonia
  • Ulcers
  • Bedsores
  • Worsening dementia symptoms
  • Increased risk of infection

Dehydration and malnutrition are the primary concerns among nursing home residents who develop gastrointestinal illness.  It is important that nursing home staff and family members understand the signs of gastrointestinal illness and know how to prevent the illness from getting worse or spreading to others. 

What is the Most Common Gastrointestinal Illness?

Norovirus is the most common gastrointestinal illness that causes outbreaks.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), norovirus is the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the United States.  Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the intestines and stomach.   There are many types of norovirus, which means that people can develop infection more than once. 

The CDC estimates that norovirus is responsible for:

  • Around 58% of all foodborne illness in the U.S. each year. 
  • Between 19 and 21 million gastroenteritis illnesses each year.
  • Between 1.7 to 1.9 million outpatient doctor visits each year.
  • An estimated 400,000 emergency room visits each year.
  • Between 56,000 and 71,000 hospitalizations each year.
  • Between 570 and 800 deaths each year, primarily among the elderly and young children.

Most norovirus outbreaks happen between November and April.  While the source of the New Jersey gastrointestinal illness outbreak has not been identified, it is possible the source was norovirus. 

How to Prevent Gastrointestinal Illness Outbreaks

Gastrointestinal illnesses most often occur due to improper hygiene, contact with contaminated surfaces or improperly handled food.  Because outbreaks are well known, the CDC offers some tips for preventing illness and outbreaks.  These tips are relevant in nursing homes, but also at home, in your office or at school. 

Proper Hand Hygiene

Bacteria and viruses that cause gastrointestinal illness can live on surfaces and in your body for weeks, even before and after you have symptoms.  Proper hand hygiene is the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses.  The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and hot water:

  • Before handling food, preparing food or eating
  • Before taking medication or giving someone else medication
  • After using the bathroom or changing a diaper
  • After cleaning the bathroom or kitchen

Proper Food Handling

Bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning and other gastrointestinal illnesses can live on food.  Make sure that all fruits and vegetables are washed before preparing or eating them.  Also, make sure that foods are properly cooked in order to kill any bacteria or viruses.  Meat and seafood in particular should be cooked to a proper internal temperature.  Some bacteria can live in temperatures up to 145 degrees, which means food needs to be cooked thoroughly.   

Avoid Preparing Food While Sick

If you live or work in a nursing home, you may be tempted to help out by preparing or serving meals when an outbreak occurs.  If you have any symptoms of illness yourself, however, you should avoid this.  The CDC warns that preparing or serving food to others while you are sick can easily spread the illness. 

Disinfect Surfaces

Surfaces that may be exposed to vomit or diarrhea should be disinfected regularly to prevent a gastrointestinal illness outbreak.  It is often difficult to tell who has the illness, so all surfaces that could hold and spread the infection should be disinfected.  If an outbreak is confirmed, then efforts to disinfect should be even greater. 

The CDC recommends disinfecting surfaces with chlorine bleach at a concentration of 1000 to 5000 parts per million (ppm) per gallon of water.  Nursing homes may also have access to disinfectants registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as being effective against gastrointestinal bacteria or viruses, including norovirus. 

Wash Laundry

If there is a gastrointestinal illness outbreak, one of the most important ways of preventing further illness is by washing laundry.  Of course, those in charge of washing laundry should be careful so they do not expose themselves to the illness.  For safe laundry handling:

  • Avoid agitating laundry while transporting it.
  • Wear disposable gloves while handling laundry that may be contaminated.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after handling laundry.
  • Wash laundry with detergent and hot water, and use the longest cycle available.
  • Dry laundry on the highest heat setting.

By following these tips, you can avoid getting sick or becoming part of a gastrointestinal illness outbreak. 

Learn More about Gastrointestinal Illness Outbreaks

If you want to learn more about gastrointestinal illness outbreaks, how to prevent them and the possible dangers, you can visit the CDC’s Trends and Outbreaks website. 

At Nursing Home Abuse Center, you can learn more about infection control in nursing homes.  You can also learn more about the rights that residents have, including quality care, healthcare and a clean and safe environment. 

Have Concerns about Nursing Home Care?

Nursing homes have a responsibility to keep facilities clean and safe, and to do their best to prevent illnesses and outbreaks.  If you have concerns about the quality of care you or a loved one is receiving at a nursing home, contact Nursing Home Abuse Center.  Let our nursing home abuse lawyer help you ensure that you are getting the quality care that you deserve.    

To request a free consultation, call us at 1-888-548-9636.   


meagan cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to FNHA and our websites, including Birth Injury Guide and MedMalFirm.com.