Calgary

Superbug fears not deterring medical tourists

The prospect of picking up a new type of "superbug" in India isn't preventing some Canadians from travelling there as so-called medical tourists.
Susan Nieboer packs for a trip to India, where she traveled for a medical procedure, despite warnings about a new superbug. ((CBC))

The prospect of picking up a new type of "superbug" in India isn't preventing some Canadians from travelling there as so-called medical tourists.

A group of 30 people left Calgary on Sunday for Bangalore, India, to undergo various medical procedures, despite the emergence in that country of an enzyme that can make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

A study released last week in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases described a new enzyme called New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase, or NDM-1.

Resistant strains have been detected in 180 people in India, Pakistan and the U.K. Many of the U.K. patients had travelled to India or to Pakistan.

Two cases have shown up in Canada — one in B.C. and one in Alberta — in patients who had undergone treatment in Indian hospitals.

Calgarian Susan Nieboer decided the potential benefits of going to an Indian hospital outweighed the risks.

"I have gone way too far emotionally, and research and talking to people for something to stop me at this point," said Nieboer, who left with the group on Sunday.

The 48-year-old is having an experimental procedure for her multiple sclerosis called "liberation treatment," which is not available in Canada.

"I just believe it's not going to happen to me, with the superbug," she said.

The owner of Calgary-based medical tourism firm Surgical Escape said he does not think his business will suffer because of NDM-1 concerns.

"We don't know right now at this time … what is the risk of actually contracting the bug and what is the risk actually to the person that has it."

Medical ethicist Dr. Ian Mitchell said medical tourists travelling to Indian hospitals risk bringing NDM-1 back to Canada.

"I think they need to really think through with their doctors and their family the consequences of having surgery abroad," he said.

"The consequences of which might be wonderfully beneficial or might be the largest disaster of their lives."