A study by Quebec's public health research institute (INSPQ) shows deaths related to clostridium difficile infections in 2010-2011 were the highest they've been since 2004, the year the crisis in hospital-acquired infections in the province was at its peak.
Cases of C. difficile infection went up by about 20 per cent in Quebec over that period, but a researcher says this is no cause for panic.
C. difficile-related deaths since 2004 in Quebec
2004-2005 – 1,034
2005-2006 – 522
2006-2007 – 561
2007-2008 – 335
2008-2009 – 457
2009-2010 – 478
2010-2011 – 619
(Source: INSPQ report)
A total of 619 Quebecers died from C. difficile over the course of 2010 and 2011.
"I wouldn't call this catastrophic or shocking," said Dr. Yves Longtin, an infectious disease scientist at Laval University. "Every year, there will be a natural tendency of the number of cases that could be higher or lower than the previous year. So the slight increase we had in 2010 is not very surprising, and it's not dramatic."
He said there was a higher rate of influenza and gastro-enteritis in 2010. These usually coincide with more cases of C. difficile.
C. difficile is most often acquired in hospital, and outbreaks are a challenge to contain because the disease is highly contagious.
An infectious disease specialist at the Montreal General Hospital — part of the McGill University Health Centre — said taking the proper precautions can be difficult, especially when dealing with emergency cases.
"When we enter the room, we have to put on a gown and gloves and when we leave, we have to do that again. Honestly, doing that consistently over a period of time isn't easy, so we need better strategies," said Dr. Brian Ward. "If we're talking about winning or losing, we're certainly just barely holding even."
According to the study, the Montreal General had the fourth-highest incidence rate of C. difficile infection in the period studied, with 15.4 cases per 10,000 patient days.
The Jewish General Hospital was even harder hit over that time period, with 16.9 cases per 10,000 patient days.
Longtin said the measures taken to help control the bacteria's spread are making a difference.
He said preliminary data for 2012 shows the infection rate is levelling out.
"The situation is back to normal... across the province right now," said Longtin.
In Saguenay, the Chicoutimi Hospital has barred visitors from some parts of the hospital because of an outbreak.
There have been 16 cases of the hospital-acquired infection, though none have been fatal so far.
In 2004, at the peak of the outbreak in Quebec hospitals, 1,034 patients died from a virulent strain of C. difficile which became known internationally as the "Quebec strain."