Deadly bacteria killing elderly in Canada hospitals

Sanitary problems arose amid cuts in funding, staff


TORONTO - A bacterium that causes virulent diarrhea in the elderly has been spreading through hospitals in Quebec and Alberta, and might have contributed to the deaths of 100 patients in one institution in the past 18 months, medical authorities said yesterday.

The spread of an infectious illness in at least a handful of hospitals has Canadian health experts concerned.

Hospital officials say housekeeping staffs have been stretched thin because of cutbacks in federal and provincial funding in recent years and that sanitary conditions suffered.

The bacteria are commonly found in hospitals and do not pose a threat to healthy people but can be deadly to weakened patients being treated with antibiotics for other illnesses that allow the bacteria to flourish in the intestinal tract.

An analysis by the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that in two hospitals in Montreal and one in Sherbrooke, Quebec, the rate of patients contracting the bacterium, Clostridium difficile or C. difficile, had increased from 2.1 cases per 1,000 admissions in 2002 to 10 per 1,000 last year, a trend that continued this year.

The study found that the bacteria have taken their heaviest toll at the University of Sherbrooke's medical center in southern Quebec, where 54 deaths last year and 46 in the first half of this year were linked to the bacteria.

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