07/30/2012 08:41 EDT | Updated 09/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Hamilton hospital on high alert after C. difficile death

St. Joseph's Hospital's Charlton campus remains on high alert after a patient with C. difficile died, although the virus is not believed to have played a significant role in that person's death, hospital officials say.

Hamilton General Hospital has also declared a C. difficile outbreak late Monday afternoon.

The St. Josephy's patient was elderly and had other health complications unrelated to C. difficile.

A preliminary review shows those complications were a larger factor in the July 11 death, said Winnie Doyle, vice-president of clinical programs at St. Joseph's Healthcare.

C. difficile “is not thought to be highly significant in that patient's death,” Doyle said Monday afternoon.

C. difficile is a bacterial infection that can be particularly harmful to people with weak immune systems such as the elderly or ill. Hamilton General Hospital also declared a C. difficile outbreak late Monday afternoon.

An outbreak of the infection was declared Saturday after the discovery of 11 hospital-acquired cases of the superbug.

As of Monday afternoon, that number has not changed, Doyle said.

The hospital says the 11 patients who displayed symptoms were infected at the Charlton campus in various parts of the hospital.

Three patients were diagnosed with the infection in June, while 13 were diagnosed in July, which brings the two-month total to 16. Some of the 11 patients in isolation were diagnosed in June, Doyle said.

Kyla Kumar, public affairs manager for St. Joseph's Healthcare could not provide details on the other infected patients due to patient confidentiality. But typically, the affected are elderly with a number of underlying medical conditions that would predispose them to the superbug, she said.

The infected patients have been placed in isolation rooms, which are cleaned daily with bleach-based cleaners.

Outbreak signs have been posted at the hospital and information has been provided to families and visitors, said Kumar.

Hamilton's public health department and the hospital are working together to monitor the outbreak.

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton has heightened its infection control measures to reduce transmission of the superbug, including hand hygiene among staff, patients and visitors and additional cleaning of common areas. Visitors to the infected patients are required to wear protective clothing to combat the spread of the superbug.

“We’re strictly enforcing our visitor policy,” said Kumar.

However, the measures taken should not deter visitors to the Charlton campus, she said.

Kumar could not comment on the potential for additional cases to emerge.

“There’s always a potential for cases of C. difficile in any hospital,” she said. “That’s something we monitor on a daily basis.”

C. difficile is a bacterium that grows in the bowel and can cause severe diarrhea and fever. It is one of the most common, but possibly harmful, infections in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The last outbreak of C. difficile at St. Joseph's Hospital was in the fall of 2010. Sixty-five people were infected and 12 died in hospital.

Hamilton's public health department declares an outbreak using a mathematical calculation that looks at the size of a facility and how quickly new cases are diagnosed, Kumar said.