C. difficile death toll in Niagara area rises to 16

Another patient linked to a C. difficile outbreak in Ontario's Niagara Region has died, bringing the total number of deaths in recent weeks to 16.

Outbreak of deadly bacteria declared on June 23

Good hand hygiene is considered an effective way to prevent the spread of C. difficile. (Rob Carr/Associated Press)

Another patient linked to a C. difficile outbreak in Ontario's Niagara Region has died, bringing the total number of deaths in recent weeks to 16.

The deaths have been reported at three hospitals in the region in recent weeks: four at the Greater Niagara General Hospital, 10 at St. Catharines General Hospital and two at the Welland Hospital.

"We truly recognize the loss that the family and friends of this patient are experiencing and on behalf of our staff and physicians we extend our sincere condolences," Dr. Joanna Hope, interim chief of staff for the Niagara Health System, said in a release Monday acknowledging the death of the 10th patient at St. Catharines General. 

The death of the patient, who had serious underlying health issues and also had tested positive for of Clostridium difficile  will be reviewed to determine what role the illness played or did not play.

The death has also been reported to the coroner, Hope said. 
C. difficile bacteria produce two toxins that cause diarrhea and damage the cells lining the bowel. (Courtesy of Lois Wiggs/CDC)

C. difficile causes diarrhea and is one of the most common infections in hospitals and long‐term-care facilities.

In severe cases, it can cause critical illness and death in elderly or very sick patients.

"I don't think this is so out of the ordinary compared to what we have seen in some outbreak settings, but it is definitely a concerning number," said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto's University Health Network, commenting on the outbreak.

The movement of patients or health-care workers who happen to bring the organism with them on their clothing or equipment like stethoscopes could also spread the infection, Hota said.

The outbreak was declared on June 23.

Reporting mandatory

The Niagara Health System serves 434,000 residents across 12 municipalities in the southwestern area of the province.

In Ontario, reporting of C. difficile became mandatory in 2008 after an outbreak led to the deaths of 62 patients at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington.

Eradicating C. difficile is challenging, said Andrew Morrison, a spokesperson for Ontario's health ministry. The ministry is sending an infection control team to monitor best practices, such as cleaning methods and hand-washing.

As with any infectious disease, frequent hand-washing is one of the best defences against the spread of the illness, the Public Health Agency of Canada's website says.

C. difficile has claimed about 2,000 lives in Quebec since 2003.

The bacteria produce two toxins that cause diarrhea and damage the cells lining the bowel.

"It's a bacterium that produces these things called spores, and the spores are very resistant to the usual cleaning substances that we would normally use every day in a hospital setting," said Hota. "They're resistant to antibiotics, which is why people can have a really hard time getting over this infection."

With files from CBC's Melanie Glanz