Although it’s uncommon on Vancouver Island, hospitals are keeping a close eye on a relatively new superbug.
The hospital hasn’t had any cases of NDM-1 (New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase) — an enzyme in some types of bacteria that makes them multi-resistant to antibiotics — confirmed Leesa Ferguson, St. Joseph’s General Hospital’s director for quality and risk management.
However, St. Joseph’s is screening patients for the enzyme along with other hospitals on Vancouver Island, according to Dr. Pamela Kibsey, the Vancouver Island Health Authority’s medical director of infection prevention control.
She adds NDM-1 has been around for a few years and was first described by researchers in India, hence the name.
“It’s been described mostly in patients who are hospitalized in India, and the other two countries that are affected are mostly Brazil and Greece,” she says, pointing out Canadians are not only hospitalized for emergencies while visiting other countries, but also when they go to another country, like India, for cheaper or faster medical procedures.
“So patients that are hospitalized there (in high-risk countries), we screen them when they come back, and we’ve done that for a couple of years in the Island, and Comox follows our VIHA standard operating practices from the lab so they do the same thing, and they’ve been screening in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland for about the same amount of time.”
Under 50 cases have been confirmed in B.C. so far and the vast majority of those have been on the Lower Mainland, according to Kibsey, but she says medical professionals are watching NDM-1 carefully because only two antibiotics can be used to treat it — and they’re extremely toxic.
“It’s multi-resistant and it’s an organism that spreads really quickly — and the drug companies aren’t making any new drugs for multi-resistant organisms right now,” she says, adding drug companies are focusing their time and money on drugs people take longer than antibiotics, like cancer treatment drugs.
“If it’s a serious infection and the patient’s on the wrong antibiotics they can die, so that’s why medical professionals are worried about it,” she says. “It’s because it’s the perfect storm, it’s prevalent in travellers, it’s in your gut and so it’s transmitted fecal-orally the same way C. dif (C. difficile) and norovirus are transmitted.”
She also points out people can carry NDM-1 and not even know it, and that it’s in some areas of New Delhi’s water and sewage systems so someone visiting from Canada could pick it up from drinking water.