Possible hospital-transmitted C. difficile infection being investigated by Eastern Health

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Health authority stresses need for proper hand hygiene among employees

Eastern Health president and CEO Vickie Kaminski. — Telegram file photo

Eastern Health is investigating its first potential in-hospital transmission of clostridium difficile.

Also known as c.difficile, clostridium difficile is a bacteria that  can cause serious gastrointestinal illness and diarrhea and is often caused by overuse of antibiotics that kill off good intestinal bacteria.

In a news release today, Eastern Health said this finding makes it more critical for employees within the organization to adhere to proper hand hygiene practices.

The health authority also released results of its 2012 hand hygiene audit which indicate the rate of compliance for proper hand hygiene has decreased when compared to its 2011 audit.

“It is well-known throughout the health-care system that hand hygiene is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and infections among our patients and our employees,” said Eastern Health president and CEO Vickie Kaminski.

“The increased awareness of the importance of hand hygiene, combined with more focus on education and hand hygiene tools within Eastern Health in recent years, should have translated into a much higher compliance rate,” Kaminski said. “I hope that now that we are dealing with a potential in-hospital transmission of C. difficile, our employees will increase their vigilance and wash their hands the right way at the right times.”

Eastern Health said on Feb. 19, an outbreak of a gastrointestinal illness was experienced on a unit within the Health Sciences Centre. The following day, on Feb. 20, testing confirmed the presence of both C. difficile and norovirus, another gastrointestinal illness caused by a virus rather than bacteria.

To date, the health authority said, it has been confirmed that six patients on this unit had C. difficile and two had norovirus. Since the gastrointestinal outbreak, visitation has been limited on the unit.

In order to confirm whether all patients were infected with the same strain of C. difficile, samples were sent to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Man., on Feb. 26. Eastern Health said it is waiting for results of that testing to determine whether in fact it is dealing with in-hospital transmission of C. difficile. Those results are expected within the next several weeks.

With respect to the hand hygiene audit, Easter Health said the overall rate of compliance has decreased by two per cent, from about 53 per cent in 2011 to 51 per cent in 2012.

When the compliance rate for the emergency departments is factored in, the health authority said the compliance rate drops to 49 per cent. Emergency departments were not audited in 2011.

 Eastern Health said there were some areas of improvement over the 2011 audit, with 14 of 27 sites showing an increase in compliance. The highest rates of hand hygiene compliance were recorded in long-term care facilities, which had an overall compliance rate of 58 per cent.

The health authority said the audit results do not mean employees are not washing their hands. “It means they do not always wash their hands at the appropriate times, as measured in this audit: specifically, both before and after patient and/or patient environment contact.”

George Butt, vice-president with responsibility for infection prevention and control, said health providers within Eastern Health are expected to adhere to hand hygiene protocols.

“Our patients and residents should expect no less, and we encourage them to speak up if their health care providers do not demonstrate proper hand hygiene,” Butt said, but the primary responsibility for proper hand hygiene rests with Eastern Health employees.

 “Our Infection Prevention and Control Program will work more closely with our employees to identify reasons for non-compliance and implement an action plan for stricter adherence to this fundamental safety practice for the benefit of those we serve,” said Kaminski. “While I commend the employees at the sites where we have seen improved results, I want all of our employees to understand how important it is to practice proper hygiene for our patients, residents and clients and, just as importantly, for our employees and their families.”

More information on the hand hygiene audit can be found HERE.



Organizations: Health Sciences Centre, National Microbiology Laboratory

Geographic location: Eastern Health, Winnipeg

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Recent comments

  • Harry Tucker
    March 18, 2013 - 21:33

    My grandmother contracted C. Difficile while staying at the Health Science Centre in February and passed away Saturday before last. I wonder if she is a victim of this oversight in hygiene. It is very disappointing to read that they have a 51% compliance in hygiene.

  • Observer
    March 18, 2013 - 21:09

    As a health care worker I would like to point out that the general public has a responsiblity in ensuring appropriate hand washing procedures as well. As long as the general public are accessing these areas to visit or attend appointments they should be more aware of what they are doing. I have been to the HSC and noticed visitors leaving bathroom stalls and not washing their hands at all before leaving the washroom! Its disqusting! Wise up people! Hand washing is everyones responsibility. And if you show any signs of having something contagious, please make appropriate precautions. Thanks!

  • Virginia Waters
    March 18, 2013 - 17:35

    Unfortunately what's needed is a class action lawsuit against the health corporations. It means, of course, that the taxpayer will pay more in the short term for large pay-outs but overall in the longer run (when health authorities are forced to take it seriously and start firing people) costs will drop. This is the experience in the much more litigious U.S. medical industry.

  • been there
    March 18, 2013 - 15:57

    As a person infected withC-Diff this past summer I can tell you it was no picnic. To add insult to injury it took over two months for the diagnosis which was only effected by my agressive actions to get to the bottom of the problem. After One colonoscopy, two Cat Scans several rounds of blood work unnecessary antibiotics. 22 lbs. weight loss later, I was finally diagnosed and all it took was a simple stool sample suggested by a Gastroenterologist. I would not wish this illness on anyone and would suggest if you are not comfortable with weeks of diarrhea and excessive weight loss ask your doctor to have you tested for C. Diff.

  • M Wallack
    March 18, 2013 - 13:55

    The Provincial Government should include c difficile in its monthly report of communicable diseases and this report should indicate the locality of the reported disease--hospital name and ward or long term care facility. The report should be available promptly. No 2013 reports are on line. http://www.health.gov.nl.ca/health/publichealth/cdc/informationandsurveillance.html#currentyear Please follow up.

  • Whaddaya At
    March 18, 2013 - 13:20

    So the problem is not that less than half the employees at Eastern Health are not washing their hands, it's that they're not washing them at the appropriate times?. So an employee washes his/her hands after having lunch, but not after using the bathroom or mopping up bodily fluids, etc. ?. That's comforting.