05 Aug 2004 22:12:59 GMT
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
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.
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
"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.
and increased staffing have helped reduce the rate of infection
since February, said Maurice Roy, director of professional
services at University Hospital.