Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Weapon in war on superbugs

City researchers declare cleaner effective in fighting infections

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Researchers from Université de Saint-Boniface have declared a South African commercial cleaning product they've tested exhaustively can be a highly effective weapon in fighting superbug infections in hospitals.

Infections such as clostridium difficile, MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and E. coli can be fatal when they get loose among the sick and weak.

"This one actually eliminates the spores, in a weak concentration, in 90 seconds," USB spokeswoman Monique Lacoste said Friday. "It's a commercial product we were asked to examine. It's to scrub down the rooms."

The research team, led by USB microbiology Prof. Mathias Oulé, published its findings about the product, Akwaton, this week in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

Oulé, who came to USB from Africa, will not be available to the media until Monday, but word about the research team's findings has already spread around Europe.

In a story published in the U.K.'s Daily Mail, Oulé was quoted as saying Akwaton's advantage over other disinfectants is it is odourless, non-corrosive and non-irritable.

Lacoste said the Canadian distributor of Akwaton had asked USB to conduct research into its effectiveness.

Senior health officials here are optimistic but urging caution, pointing out no product can be used in a hospital until Health Canada has given its seal of approval.

"This is an interesting study and we look forward to reviewing it further and receiving more information as it becomes available," said Dr. John Embil, director of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's infection control program and a professor in the University of Manitoba's faculty of medicine.

"Currently, we're reviewing what disinfectants we are using in our housekeeping departments, and we're happy to learn more about this product so that we can consider it," Embil said Friday.

"However, it is important that you know that all of the cleaning and disinfectant products purchased by the region for use in hospitals are approved by Health Canada as safe for use at the levels of concentration currently employed," Embil emphasized.

A June 23 Free Press story focused on inadequate handwashing in health facilities and reported there is is a growing plague of superbugs -- antibiotic-resistant infections such as MRSA and C. difficile -- that can be fatal.

The deadly SARS virus that almost crippled Ontario's health-care system in 2003 made infection control top-of-mind for hospitals across Canada. After that, infection-control standards became part of how hospitals are accredited.

Two years ago, the WRHA flunked an accreditation review, which found Winnipeg hospitals failed to meet 13 of 17 national standards for containing and reducing infections. The audits began in earnest last summer as a response to the accreditation review and as a way to get to the bottom of a recent spike in VRE infections.

Vancomycin-resistant enterococci, one of the new superbugs, has infected more than 1,100 Winnipeggers since January of last year. It's not as debilitating as other superbugs, but it is seen as a harbinger of bigger problems in infection control.


-- with files from Mary Agnes Welch


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 A3

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