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Niagara-area hospital worker infected with C. difficile

Photo By Ruth Bonneville Emma Ongsansoy, Technologist at the National Microbiology laboratory in Winnipeg, examines a plate of c.difficile through a Bio Safety cabinet. March 9, 2007

Ruth Bonneville/The Globe and Mail

A hospital worker in the Niagara region has contracted C. difficile.

Niagara Health System interim CEO Sue Matthews said it was confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the employee has the deadly bacterial infection.

But she said though the hospital network she oversees tries to be transparent, it can't reveal which hospital the staffer worked at or what the person's job was until officials check the confidentiality provisions of the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act.

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"I have to find the balance between the two," but the network will share as much as it legally can, she said.

Ms. Matthews says the worker had underlying health issues which contributed to the individual catching the infection.

Officials from the Ministry of Labour are advising the network and will make recommendations, she added.

Another two Niagara region patients have been diagnosed with C. difficile since Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases there to 80 since the first outbreak was declared.

Twenty-one people infected with the bacteria have died in the area since May 28, with the latest Niagara death declared Tuesday.

That brings the provincial total of patient deaths connected to C. difficile since the end of May to at least 22. The figure includes one elderly patient at Guelph General Hospital who died on the weekend.

A provincial report by a team of infection control experts who focused on how management at the St. Catharines hospital is dealing with the outbreak was also released Wednesday.

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The report makes 45 recommendations for the Niagara Health System.

It calls for health network executive to handle case reports, more proactive cleaning of C. difficile-affected hospitals areas, and reducing the movement of patients within a hospital.

The report also recommends suspected or confirmed C. difficile patients never be assigned to the same room, a practice Ms. Matthews said occurred prior to the current outbreaks.

"At somewhere some time someone slipped through the cracks," she said, adding the hospitals "generally run at 100 per cent bed utilization" but aim to add beds to new areas when needed.

Ms. Matthews said Niagara hospitals have implemented some of the changes and are working to put more into place, such as keeping housekeeping staff added for the outbreaks permanent after the infectious bacteria is confined at the hospitals.

Seven Ontario hospitals are battling outbreaks of the infection, which causes severe diarrhea and typically spreads through contact with fecal matter.

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