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Bluewater Health is raising awareness of infection control measures, inviting patients, families, visitors and staff to work together to help minimize the spread of infection.
At this time of year, healthcare facilities can typically see an increased number of cases of gastrointestinal (GI) illness, and such infections as Clostridium difficile (C. difficile). While Bluewater Health has not yet seen a higher number of GI illnesses, since November 2011 the hospital has cared for 16 individuals with C. difficile.
“Many factors are involved, but patients can acquire the C. difficile infection after exposure to antibiotics during their hospital stay,” explains Dr. Mark Taylor, VP Medical Affairs and Chief of Quality, Patient Safety and Risk Management. “Antibiotics work by killing off bacteria – bad bacteria and good bacteria. Without the presence of typical good bowel bacteria, bacteria may start to grow and produce toxins that can cause C. difficile.”
“For most people, C. difficile does not pose a health risk,” he added. “However, those who are weakened by a condition requiring antibiotic use are more susceptible to the infection. Symptoms can range from mild or severe diarrhea to fever, abdominal cramping, abdominal pain and dehydration. In severe cases, surgery may be needed, and in extreme cases, C. difficile may cause or contribute to death. Vomiting is not associated with C. difficile.”
C. difficile is a common cause of infectious diarrhea in hospitals or long-term care homes. When a person has C. difficile, fecal bacteria can contaminate surfaces such as toilets, handles, bedpans or commode chairs. By always washing hands and practicing good hygiene, individuals can greatly reduce the chance of picking up any bacteria – not only C. difficile.
There are currently seven patients with active C. difficile infection at Bluewater Health, Sarnia, with no new cases since January 9. To minimize the spread of infection, Bluewater Health, in consultation with Dr. Chris Greensmith, Acting Medical Officer of Health for Lambton County, is applying best practice infection control measures, including:
- Accommodating patients with a confirmed case of C. difficile on a single nursing unit (Inpatient Medicine) beginning January 3, 2012 and keeping affected patients in private rooms with private washroom facilities. To date, one surgery has been rescheduled due to bed availability.
- Implementing visitor restrictions on Inpatient Medicine to two designated visitors per patient (as of January 4, 2012); and requiring those visitors to wear a gown and gloves during patient visitation.
- Undertaking ‘top to bottom’ environmental cleanings using a sporicidal disinfectant in every inpatient unit at Bluewater Health, Sarnia, beginning in the Medicine unit. This will necessitate some movement of inpatients to alternate units during these intense cleanings.
- Restricting staff from working in various units across the organization or in community facilities where outbreak conditions are in place.
- Requiring staff to wear gowns and gloves when providing direct hands-on care to affected patients.
- Monitoring patient conditions and the situation daily, via its Infection Control Committee and Lambton Community Health Services Department; and hosting interdisciplinary, cross-organizational team meetings three times weekly.
- Keeping patients, their families, and the public informed via handouts, signs and media releases, and publicly posting monthly infection control indicators on its website.
- Discouraging family members from visiting loved ones in hospital if they are unwell or have a fever, cough, diarrhea or vomiting; and encouraging hand hygiene upon entry and exit from the hospital.
- Reporting regularly to Lambton County’s Medical Officer of Health, the Erie St. Clair Local Health Integration Network and Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care.
“This can be a difficult infection for hospitals to eradicate, and the minimum requirement to declare an outbreak over is to have seven consecutive days between new cases,” said Dr. Taylor. “As is reported monthly on our website, it is not unusual to have a small number of such infections at any given time, but this is the first outbreak of C. difficile at Bluewater Health in four years and we appreciate the patience and co-operation of the public in helping us to together, reduce infections.”
Visiting hours for other inpatient units at Bluewater Health’s Sarnia and Petrolia locations continue as normal.