Drug-resistant bacteria confirmed in Edmonton hospital

An antibiotic-resistant bacteria has been found in 10 current and former patients at the University of Alberta Hospital. Dozens of others are being notified to get tested.

Found in 10 patients, 50 others urged to get tested

A Calgary doctor shows a petri-dish used in her study of multi-drug-resistant bacteria. ((CBC))

A University of Alberta Hospital patient infected with a drug-resistant bacteria spread the organism to nine other hospital patients, health officials said Friday.

And Alberta Health Services is contacting 50 others who may have been exposed.

Officials stressed the health risks associated with carrying the bacteria are "minimal." But they noted there are few available treatments to fight any infections the bacteria might cause.

"There's a small risk of developing an infection." said Dr. Mark Joffe, senior director of prevention and control for Alberta Health Services. "For those who do, we do have treatments available but the cupboard is becoming somewhat bare. We don't have a lot of options." 

The bacteria —called carbapenemase producing organisms, or CPO — is among those that have become resistant to most antibiotics, meaning drugs no longer work to treat infections. Joffe noted that drug-resistant bacteria are a significant problem in other parts of the world and are becoming increasingly problematic in Canada. 

The first patient infected with CPO arrived at the hospital in December last year. The patient was isolated and screened for the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria after indicating medical care had been received in another country within the past six months.

We do have treatments available but the cupboard is becoming somewhat bare.- Dr. Mark Joffe

Admissions staff routinely ask that question of new patients. Joffe would not disclose where the patient had received care.

"Infection control procedures were followed up exactly as we intended," Joffe said.

He could not explain how the bacteria was spread.

"We don't have a clear answer for precisely how the second individual in this cluster acquired that drug-resistant bacteria. We can speculate, but we'll never know absolutely for sure."

Infection control procedures followed but bacteria still spread

Three months after the first patient was identified, health officials discovered a second person from the same unit was carrying CPO. Further testing found seven others carrying the bacteria. All of them had shared a room and had direct contact with each other, either with their hands or through the use of the same equipment.

One of those people developed an infection from the bacteria, which was treated and the person recovered, Joffe said.

CPO is usually carried in the intestinal tract. There are billions of bacteria in the gut, Joffe said, and CPO will often become an unproblematic part of the bacterial makeup of the intestine. But the bacteria can develop into an infection, such as a urinary tract infection.

AHS is contacting 50 current and discharged patients who may have been exposed at the hospital.

The CPO bacteria has been found about 50 times previously in Alberta, a number that Joffe characterized as "not common."