Illness follows stay at Penticton Regional Hospital

Interior Health figures show Penticton is below provincial average for C. difficile infections

A woman who claims she has twice left Penticton Regional Hospital with a nasty sickness says she won’t be going back again.

She said visits for minor procedures both this September and last resulted in her developing Clostridium difficile infections. The bacteria can bring on flu-like symptoms, including diarrhea and vomiting, and cause death in the most extreme cases.

“Every orifice of your body is kicking out liquid,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

“You’re so sick that you can’t care for yourself. You can’t leave the bathroom. And I just don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I went through. It’s just horrible.”

She said the C. difficile infections were so severe, she was admitted to hospital for treatment and placed in isolation in the PRH intensive care unit. The woman did not provide any documentation to back up her claims and did not want her name published for fear it might affect her ability to obtain health care in the future.

An infectious disease specialist for Interior Health strongly denied that going public would result in any negative repercussions for the woman, but said her story is plausible.

“Is it possible she picked it up in the hospital? Yes, it’s possible… but it’s very difficult to say,” said Dr. Edith Blondel-Hill, adding there are two ways people typically acquire a C. difficile infection.

Some people carry the bug in their guts, but the bacteria doesn’t cause a problem because other flora keep it in check. Antibiotics, however, can upset the balance and allow C. difficile to flourish and make its host sick.

The bug and its spores are also present in human feces and can infect people who touch surfaces that are contaminated with feces and then touch their mouths afterwards. That mode of transmission is usually how the bacteria is spread in hospitals and other care facilities.

Blondel-Hill confirmed that four PRH patients had a C. difficile infection in September. However, the infection rate is generally reported as the number of cases per 10,000 patient days, and it changes dramatically from month to month.

According to figures provided by Interior Health for this fiscal year, the rate reached 12.9 in April, dipped to zero in July, then climbed back to 9.3 in September. Between April 1 and Oct. 11, the rate averaged 6.2.

There are too many variables at play to nail down a precise reason for the rate changes, Blondel-Hill said, adding that because there are so few cases involved, just a single new infection can dramatically bump up the rate.

When the rate does climb over six, an Interior Health infectious disease control committee investigates and implements measures such as extra cleaning and increased education around hand washing for staff and patients. And when a patient is diagnosed with a C. difficile infection, she continued, that person is isolated and her room and anything she touched is given a “terminal cleaning” to get rid of the bug.

Blondell-Hill, a microbiologist who founded the Do Bugs Need Drugs? educational program, also said the recent cases she examined at PRH didn’t seem to originate there.

“The few cases we’ve had don’t seem to be related. So (the patients) didn’t have the same nurse, they weren’t on the same ward, that kind of thing,” she said, adding it’s more likely the patients got sick because they were taking antibiotics. “To totally eradicate C. difficile,” Blondel-Hill said, “I don’t know one institution that’s been able to do that.”

And PRH has been doing better than other facilities its size. The hospital’s C. difficile infection rate was 2.2 during the first half of the 2011-12 fiscal year, fourth lowest among the 19 other B.C. hospitals in its size category, according to the most recent data available from the Provincial Infection Control Network of B.C.

That report noted that of the 1,496 cases of C. difficile cases reported in B.C. during that period, 11 per cent were in the Interior Health region, and that half of Interior Health’s cases originated within its facilities, the lowest percentage among the province’s five regional health authorities.