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Hospitals with C. difficile remain safe, officials say

C. difficile is a common cause of infectious diarrhea in nursing homes and hospitals, and usually occurs in patients who have been taking regular antibiotics for an infection.

Ruth Bonneville

Patients should not stay away from hospitals amid the current C. difficile outbreak, Ontario's public health boss said Sunday, as seven facilities in the province continue to battle the deadly superbug.

"Our hospitals remain very safe places. If you have a loved one that is ill and in need of hospital care you should not stay away because you're afraid of C. diff," Dr. Vivek Goel, CEO and president of Public Health Ontario, told reporters at a news conference.

C. difficile is a bacteria that attacks the lining of the gut and can cause severe diarrhea in some patients, most often affecting the elderly and those on antibiotics. It has been linked to at least 24 deaths in Ontario, 20 of which occurred in the Niagara Health System's hospitals, though officials say it's always difficult to determine what role the disease played in each death.

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Some researchers and doctors say Ontario could be near the beginning of a long fight with the disease. Hospitals in Ontario are battling a virulent strain of C. difficile called NAP 1, which produces more toxins than other strains and is more resistant to some antibiotics. It's the same strain that was linked with an estimated 2,000 deaths during an outbreak in Quebec.

Three of the 10 hospitals that had outbreaks last week have since regained control of the disease, according to the Ministry of Health. Lennox and Addington General Hospital in Napanee, Toronto East General Hospital and the Juravinski Hospital of Hamilton Health Sciences are now off the outbreak list.

A hospital can be removed from that list after it goes 30 days without a new, hospital-acquired C. difficile case, said acting chief medical officer Dr. David Williams.

"We always expect to see some hospitals in and out of outbreak mode," Health Minister Deb Matthews said. "It's an infection that's in hospitals pretty well everywhere."

She added the hospitals that have had outbreaks are taking extra precautions to keep the disease from spreading, and asked patients and families to do the same.

"When it comes to infection control, it requires the efforts of everyone involved in the hospital," Ms. Matthews said. "It's very important that people - no matter how healthy they are - they take a moment and just wash their hands as they enter the hospital. Because this is an infection that is spread, and a visitor can spread it just as easily as anyone else."

Those Ontario hospitals still experiencing an outbreak include: St. Catharines General, the Welland site of the Niagara Health System, Greater Niagara General in Niagara Falls, Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Hospital in St. Catharines, Headwaters Health Centre in Orangeville, Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, and Guelph General Hospital.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Kim Mackrael has been a reporter for The Globe and Mail since 2011. She joined the Ottawa bureau Sept. 2012. More

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