Vitalité refuses to disclose C. difficile numbers

The Vitalité Health Network is continuing to refuse to disclose the number of cases of the C. difficile infections at its facilities.

Dr. Brian Goldman says disclosing infection statistics makes for good patient care

The Vitalité Health Network is continuing to refuse to disclose the number of cases of the C. difficile infections at its facilities.

Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L-Dumont University Hospital is undergoing a major clean because of high rates of C. difficile.

However, the extent of the outbreak is not publicly known because the health authority will not disclose the number of cases of C. difficile.

Luc Foulem, a spokesperson for the Vitalité Health Network, said the C. difficile statistics are passed on voluntarily to the provincial government.

Hospitals are not obligated to report such outbreaks, a Department of Health official confirmed.

"We do have a weekly set of data that is calculated and sent forth to the public health department," said Foulem.

Although he would not disclose the number of cases, he did provide the rates: 7.2 in September, up from 2.7 during the same period last year.

The rate in November was 6.8, while the December rate was 4.9, he said.

Vitalité will be keeping a close eye on the undisclosed number of cases of C. difficile until March, said Foulem.

He said the infection rates are decreasing and he said he feels confident they will continue to do so.

Improving public accountability

While the Vitalité Health Network does not publicly release its infection rates, others hospitals across the country are more open with the public.

Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, for example, keeps a monthly tally of cases of C. difficile available on its website.

Dr. Brian Goldman, an emergency room physician at the hospital and a CBC medical commentator, said making the number of cases available to the public improves the hospital's accountability.

"I see reporting outbreaks of infections that have been identified that have been particularly problematic for patients as paramount to delivering good patient care," Goldman said.

Goldman said it is important to offer patients and their families important information about infection rates at hospitals.

"That is certainly good for health consumers but it’s also good for hospitals because it makes them aware they have an obligation to report on outbreaks and deal with them efficiently and expeditiously as possible," he said.

C. difficile spreads by spores and preys on the elderly and the weak.

Symptoms of the sometimes-fatal bacteria include watery diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal pain or tenderness.

Frequent hand washing with warm, soapy water is considered the best defence against the infection.