More C. difficile cases to come: doctor
C. difficile, the deadly bug which already claimed 20 lives in Ontario since an outbreak began six weeks ago, may become a lingering problem for the province.
While the bacteria exists in most hospitals, infectious disease specialist Dr. Neil Rau told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the new strain is more serious.
"The new normal is going to be a few deaths from C. difficile in any given hospital," said Rau, who works for Halton Healthcare Services in Ontario.
He said the current outbreak is "a more virulent, more serious strain than what we saw before. It causes more severe disease and a higher rate of death."
Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease expert at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said the bacterial disease is very difficult to control.
"We're going to be seeing peaks and ebbs over time and this is probably just one of those periods where we're seeing more peaks," he told CTV News Channel.
Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews and the province's Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Williams are scheduled to speak to the media Sunday afternoon about the outbreak.
Rau, however, said the biggest challenge for hospitals will be to "decide when they are really having an outbreak or when are they having the new normal."
Morris said the strain Ontario hospitals are currently battling is one of the more toxic strains that can cause more intense symptoms. He said Quebec had a similar experience several years ago.
According to a study released in 2004, C. difficile claimed the lives of 109 people over a six-month period that same year in Quebec.
On Friday, the Niagara Health System announced the death of three more patients with C. difficile -- one at the Niagara-on-the-Lake hospital and two at its St. Catharines general hospital.
The Ontario Health Ministry said there are at least eight hospitals in the province fighting an outbreak of the disease -- two less than earlier this week.
In addition to the outbreak in the Niagara region, outbreaks have been declared in Orangeville, Guelph and Mississauga.
To protect those vulnerable to the superbug -- the elderly and people with medical conditions – Morris advises people to wash their hands regularly and to maintain a clean environment while in hospital.
Morris said there are only a couple of reasonably "reliable" antibiotics that can effectively deal with the resistant organism.
Rau also said hospitals have never had to focus on such intense cleaning before this current outbreak.
"We're talking about an invisible level of clean using extremely expensive chemicals or difficult-to-use chemicals like bleach to get rid of the invisible inanimate form of this bacteria," he said.
C. difficile is a bacteria that is ingested by people in a hospital environment. Rau said if it finds its way in an intestine that is devoid of bacteria due to the consumption of antibiotics, it can produce toxins.
Signs of C. difficile include abdominal pain, bloating and watery diarrhea.