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Patients isolated at RCH

There has been an outbreak of a bacterial infection highly resistant to many of medicine's most powerful antibiotics in a medical unit at Royal Columbian Hospital.

Dr. Elizabeth Brodkin, Fraser Health's infection protection and control medical director, said Monday five patients in the 5 North ward, have been isolated because Carbapenemase-Producing Enterobacterlacae (CPE) has been detected in their system. The unit houses patients with complex medical conditions and many underlying issues for a number of weeks. Although there has not previously been an outbreak on the unit before, Fraser Health regularly checks for CPE

Brodkin said CPE can often settle into a person's colon but they won't notice it because their immune systems deal with it, but they can still be carriers. She said most people who acquire it ingest or take it in when they're eating. It can spread when someone with it doesn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom and someone else touches the same surface they do afterward and then ingest it without washing their hands.

CPE is from a family of bacteria which is resistant to carbaphenems some of the most powerful and important series of antibiotics available, said Brodkin. Treatment can vary depending on where the bacteria attacks. If it's in the bladder it can cause a urinary infection, it makes it way into the lungs symptoms of pneumonia can emerge or it can cause a blood infection.

Since CPE can take several weeks from the first exposure until it's discovered in screening, the control measures taken by Fraser Health will have to be in place for several weeks before they know if the outbreak is over, said Brodkin. However, Fraser Health says patients and visitors should not be discouraged from seeking treatment or visiting RCH because of the outbreak.

Brokin added, most of the unit is still open for new patients but the five patients are isolated from the rest and have their own medical and housekeeping staff, and equipment. In addition, the staff working with those patients wear gowns and gloves.

Fraser Health said there's been a global increase in CPE over the past decade with increased international travel fueling the prevalence of the bacteria in the region.

To prevent the spread of CPE Fraser Health is advising the public to wash their hands often, especially after using the bathroom or before preparing and eating food. The health authority also suggests not sharing personal care items such as towels, toothbrushes or soap, to clean bathrooms and other frequently touched surfaces like light switches and taps once a day, to wash cleaning cloths after every use, and to keep a clean dressing on open draining wounds.

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