At least 460 patients infected with the lethal C. difficile bacterium have died in Ontario hospitals over the past 30 months, newspaper reports suggests.
A tally by the Hamilton Spectator shows that 463 infected patients died at just 22 of Ontario's 157 hospitals. The deaths occurred between January, 2006, and May, 2008.
New figures compiled by the newspaper show C. difficile has assaulted more hospitals and claimed more lives than previously known.
Health Minister David Caplan, who replaced George Smitherman last month, has said the government has no plans to call an inquiry.
Families and opposition politicians have criticized the Liberals for failing to take more aggressive action since a lethal strain of C. difficile arrived in Ontario in 2006.
Conservative Leader John Tory said Thursday the rising deaths reconfirm the need for a probe into the full scope of C. difficile.
Both Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington and Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie have been hard hit by C. difficile.
In Burlington, 91 patients infected with the bacterium died, 62 of them directly from C. difficile. In Barrie, 51 infected patients died, 24 directly as a result of C. difficile.
No one in the provincial government has ever tabulated the full number of deaths from the bug.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health has so far been able to confirm only 22 outbreaks in 19 hospitals from November, 2006, to May, 2008, but does not know the number who died in those incidents.
Experts such as infection specialist Michael Gardam have said the Spectator's ongoing tally of C. difficile cases is only the tip of the iceberg.
Some hospitals have not declared outbreaks, but have reported significant numbers of deaths.
Trafalgar Memorial Hospital in Oakville says 27 patients infected with C. difficile died from January 2007 to April 2008. C. difficile was cited as a factor in 17 of the deaths.
Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor had 37 deaths from C. difficile from April 2006 to March, 2008.
Data on C. difficile prevalence in Ontario is scant because it has never been a reportable disease.
C. difficile has been blamed for 2,000 deaths in Quebec.
Hospitals use a variety of methods to collect information on C. difficile and to decide whether an official outbreak should be declared.
That changes Sept. 30 when mandatory reporting begins.
Hospitals like Joseph Brant and Royal Victoria have called in outside specialists to look back through charts to determine which cases were directly linked to C. difficile.
Few of Ontario's 157 hospitals have gone through a chart examination to determine numbers of deaths.
However, as public concern escalates, many hospitals are voluntarily tabulating their fatalities.
Michael Baker, the Ontario patient safety adviser in charge of designing the reporting system, says there will be a standard definition for what constitutes an outbreak.
But Dr. Baker says there is no intention to require hospitals to report deaths.
Dr. Baker says that's because determining whether C. difficile caused or contributed to a death is a complicated procedure that relies on the individual judgment of the expert looking at the case.