Hunt for source of deadly ‘flesh-eating’ bug as hospital bids to contain infection

DISEASE specialists in Saint John in Ottawa, Canada, are searching for the source of a case of so-called flesh-eating disease that killed a 37-year-old woman on Friday.

Another patient with the disease was upgraded from serious to stable condition on Sunday night. The patient is in isolation at the Saint John Regional Hospital.

“We have instituted precautions to contain the spread of this infection and now feel the situation is under control as no new cases have developed,” Dr Jim O’Brien, chief of staff at the Atlantic Health Sciences Corporation, said.

Dr O’Brien said they are trying to find the link between the patients who were infected with the rare disease, and have enlisted help from Health Canada and the provincial Health Department to track its origin.

Dr O’Brien said both patients were in surgery last Monday and Tuesday but didn’t get sick until later in the week. Five other people at the hospital, who were patients at the same day surgery unit last week, have been put in isolation. Doctors are trying to determine whether they also have the disease.

The patients are receiving antibiotics as a preventative measure. Dr O’Brien said the patients are doing well.

Officials say no new cases have been detected. They have yet to determine the source of the infection.

“When something like this occurs you look at all aspects of the system including instrumentation and everything else,” Dr O Brien said.

“At this time we are confident that there was no breakdown in our instrument sterility process.”

The bacteria, known as group A streptococcus, consumes flesh, often leading to amputation or death.

It can be transmitted through body secretions exchanged during close contact, such as kissing.

The same infectious disease affected former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard.

People usually become sick within a week, said Dr Scott Giffen, chief medical health officer for the region. He said it is possible to carry the bacteria and spread it without showing signs of illness. “What can also happen is they can acquire the organism, not get ill and spread it to the community until eventually it gets to somebody who might get ill,” he said.

Dr Giffen said it could be as long as two weeks before they are sure the infection isn’t spreading.

Hospital officials in Saint John said they get a case of flesh-eating disease once every two years.

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