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Superbug blamed for 100 deaths in Quebec hospital

05 Aug 2004 22:12:59 GMT

By Charles Grandmont


MONTREAL, Aug 5  - A mutant strain of bacteria has killed 100 patients in a single Canadian hospital since the beginning of 2003, experts said on Thursday, and they predicted a deadlier epidemic if urgent action is not taken.   Dr Jacques Pepin, an epidemiologist at University Hospital in Sherbrooke, Quebec, where the outbreak occurred, co-led a study of the superbug published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.


Pepin said the death toll from the C. difficile bacteria could reach 1,000 across the province of Quebec by year's end.


The researchers said a common bowel bacteria has evolved over the past two years into a virulent superbug that causes deadly diarrhea among older people or patients taking antibiotics.


"The diarrhea is extremely severe so the chances of spreading are greater," he said.


Pepin called for increased spending on research, equipment and hospital renovations to prevent the disease from spreading.


The government of the province of Quebec quickly contested the findings, saying there was no proof that the bacteria was actually responsible for the 100 deaths studied in Sherbrooke, a town of 140,000 about 150 kilometers (94 miles) east of Montreal.


"It's the kind of declaration toward which I would be extremely prudent," Quebec Health Minister Philippe Couillard told Reuters.


"People infected by the bacteria died, but that doesn't mean they died because of the bacteria," he said.


Quebec began to monitor new cases two months ago, but Couillard said he expects it will take many months to assess the actual risk.


Another study published in June blamed the bacteria for at least 89 deaths in Montreal and Calgary last year.


"We consider the problem to be serious, we are worried and we are dealing with it, but there is currently no reason to postpone treatments or hospitalizations," Couillard said.


Pepin and his team of researchers disagree, saying under funding in public hospitals over the past decade has led to overcrowded wards and weaker patients.


"Competition for beds is more ferocious and only the most seriously ill and the oldest are hospitalized," he said.


Pepin said the virus is spreading more quickly because of a lack of private rooms, which forces patients to share bathrooms. Lines of patients lying in stretchers in hospital corridors for hours, or even days, are a common sight in Quebec.


"We have problems with dilapidated facilities in hospitals ... but that's only one of the contributing elements," Couillard said, adding Sherbrooke's University Hospital was about to start a C$80 million ($60 million) renovation program.


Preventive measures and increased staffing have helped reduce the rate of infection since February, said Maurice Roy, director of professional services at University Hospital.

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