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CMAJ. 2000 Apr 18;162(8):1133-7.

Surveillance for outbreaks of respiratory tract infections in nursing homes.

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Hamilton Regional Laboratory Medicine Program, McMaster University, Ont.



Outbreaks of respiratory tract infections are common in long-term care facilities for older people. The objective of our study was to determine both the frequency of such outbreaks and their clinical and epidemiological features.


Prospective surveillance for outbreaks of respiratory tract infections and a retrospective audit of surveillance records were conducted in 5 nursing homes in metropolitan Toronto over 3 years. The clinical manifestations of infected residents were identified and microbiological investigations for causal agents were conducted.


Sixteen outbreaks, involving 480 of 1313 residents, were identified prospectively during 1 144 208 resident-days of surveillance, for an overall rate of 0.42 infections per 1000 resident-days. Another 30 outbreaks, involving 388 residents, were identified retrospectively. Outbreaks occurred year-round, with no seasonal pattern. Pathogens included influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus, Legionella sainthelensi and Chlamydia pneumoniae. Multiple pathogens were detected in 38% (6/16) of the prospectively identified outbreaks. Of the 480 residents in the prospectively identified outbreaks 398 (83%) had a cough, 194 (40%) had fever and 215 (45%) had coryza. Clinical findings were nonspecific and could not be used to distinguish between causal agents. Pneumonia developed in 72 (15%) of the 480 residents, and 58 (12%) required transfer to hospital. The case-fatality rate was 8% (37/480).


Our findings emphasize the importance of adequate surveillance for outbreaks of respiratory tract infections in nursing homes and of early diagnosis so that appropriate interventions can be promptly instituted.

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