Answers sought in Niagara C. difficile outbreak
Published Tuesday, July 5, 2011 2:13PM EDT
The C. difficile outbreak affecting hospitals in the Niagara region has claimed the life of a 16th victim. Now, angry residents are preparing for a rally to voice their anger about the way local hospitals have handled the health crisis.
The demonstration will be held Wednesday in front of the Greater Niagara General Hospital, where four patients have died from complications caused by the highly infectious bacteria.
The 16th patient died on Monday. Ten others died at St. Catharines General Hospital and two at the Welland hospital, all in little more than a month.
All three hospitals are run by the Niagara Health System, which manages seven hospitals in the Niagara region.
Rally organizers say NHS took far too long to alert the public about the C. difficile crisis. Niagara City Coun. Wayne Gates says hospital officials first learned about the outbreak May 12, but didn't alert the public until more than a month later.
C. difficile, or Clostridium difficile, is a strain of bacteria that can that cause severe diarrhea in certain vulnerable patients. Hospital patients who have had to take antibiotics are at greater risk of infection, as are the elderly.
C. difficile infections are among the most common in hospitals and long-term care facilities.
The outbreak was announced May 28 and 66 cases have now been reported in the area.
Gill Dawson and Elaine Smith, whose parents, Thomas and Margaret Dawson, both died from the C. diff complications within 10 weeks of each other, told CTV's Canada AM Tuesday morning to that it was terrifying to watch their mother get sick.
"She got to the point where she swelled up like a balloon, her arms and legs and stomach were out to here, you couldn't even touch her skin she was in agony," Dawson said.
Both Dawson and Smith said they don't understand why measures, such as a fecal transplant, weren't taken to try to save their parents' lives.
But an infectious disease expert from Lake Placid, N.Y. told Canada AM that the procedure isn't widely available in Canada yet.
"There are drugs that we use as first-line measures and in many cases those are successful," he said via Skype. "But there's no question that in severe or refractory cases it's a sort of approach or last reach."
He said getting the procedure available in community hospitals is more complicated but he thinks it's something that will be more prevalent in the future.
Meanwhile, health authorities in the Niagara region are trying to contain the outbreak. The hospital has put visitor restrictions in place, has hired more cleaners and is bringing in two infection-control teams.
The Niagara Health System says the results of the C. difficile death reviews will be made public once meetings with the patients' families are complete.
With files from The Canadian Press