Nova Scotia

Antibiotic use questioned in C. difficile spread

The CEO of the Cape Breton District Health Authority says he's wondering whether heavy antibiotic use in hospitals might be to blame for the recent spread of C. difficile.

The CEO of the Cape Breton District Health Authority says he's wondering whether heavy antibiotic use in hospitals might be to blame for the recent spread of C. difficile.

Clostridium difficile has been identified as a contributing factor in the deaths of five patients with underlying medical issues.

Several new in-patient cases have also been diagnosed in recent days, bringing the total number patients with confirmed cases of C. difficile to 25. They are in isolation.

C. difficile usually occurs in patients who take regular antibiotics, because it upsets the body's natural balance. The bacteria grow in the large bowel and cause diarrhea and serious intestinal conditions. Very sick patients are most at risk.

John Malcom, the CEO of the health authority, said while it's just speculation, heavy antibiotic use in hospitals over the winter may have been a contributing factor.

"We had a really rough January and February, we had a lot of pneumonia … our ICUs were packed," Malcom told CBC News on Friday.

"I'm interested in knowing — in fighting the fight we fought in January and February, with the heavy number of severely ill patients on ventilators and the respiratory season we had — did we, in fact, open the door a bit to C. difficile in March?"

Most of the cases of C. difficile are at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney and the Glace Bay General Hospital in Glace Bay. Nevertheless, the health authority is restricting visitors at all its hospitals and nursing homes to try to prevent the spread of the infection.

Under the visitor restrictions, only two immediate family members or next of kin are allowed to visit a loved one. The health authority is reminding people that no children under 12 and no one with an illness, including diarrhea, should visit.

Enhanced cleaning is continuing in some patient rooms, clinical areas and on some equipment.

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