March 11, 2013 6:33 pm

‘Nightmare bacteria’ creeping over the border into B.C.

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B.C. medical officials are trying to prevent the spread of a new superbug, CRE, that has spawned a strong warning south of the border.

The bacteria, medically known as Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, are endemic in hospitals elsewhere but are now being spread to North American hospitals by infected patients.

“CRE are nightmare bacteria,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. “Our strongest antibiotics don’t work and patients are left with potentially untreatable infections.”

In issuing the warning, Frieden said more than 200 U.S. hospitals and long-term acute care facilities had cases of CRE in the first half of 2012 alone.

“Doctors, hospital leaders and public health must work together now to implement CDC’s ‘detect and protect’ strategy and stop these infections from spreading.”

Bruce Gamage, manager of B.C.’s Provincial Infection Control Network, said special protocols have been in place for ill patients returning from Greece, Israel, and the Indian subcontinent.

“We are now asking people whether they’ve been in a hospital in the U.S.,” Gamage told The Province. “If so, there are protocols in place.”

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Hospitals use extreme caution if a patient became ill and has been treated in a hospital or health-care facility in one of the regions of concern.

“They stay in their own room, and everyone who goes in the room wears gowns and gloves.” said Gamage.”We stress handwashing, to ensure it doesn’t get spread around the hospital.”

Dr. Linda Hoang, a medical microbiologist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said B.C. saw its first case of CRE in 2008, and to date there are no proven B.C. cases of CRE spreading from one patient to another.

“Knock on wood,” said Hoang. “Currently we are not in the same situation as in the U.S.

“People in a hospital setting are vulnerable.

“The hospitals are extremely aggressive in preventing it in B.C.”

Hoang said some of the CRE carriers contracted the bacteria due to a recent phenomenon known as “medical tourism” – patients needing expensive procedures sometimes opt for cheaper care in the third world, but may contract illnesses even as they’re saving money.

“It can be very serious,” said Hoang, who said travellers treated in hospitals abroad also can bring CRE back to B.C.

The seriousness is being addressed south of the border, where CRE has been shown to be very communicable.

“During the last decade, CDC has tracked one type of CRE from a single health care facility to health care facilities in at least 42 states,” reads the CDC report outlining the risk from CRE. “In some medical facilities, these bacteria already pose a routine challenge to health care professionals.”

Hoang said patients have an important part to play in preventing the spread of CRE here in B.C.

She strongly urges patients checking into a B.C. hospital who have been treated in a health-care facility in the high-risk areas regions to immediately alert the staff so proper protective measures can be put in place.

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