Bacteria in water system shuts hemodialysis unit at Charlottetown hospital

·2 min read
Patients who normally use the Queen Elizabeth Hospital hemodialysis unit will be treated in Souris or Summerside until the Charlottetown clinic passes at least two water tests.  (John Robertson/CBC - image credit)
Patients who normally use the Queen Elizabeth Hospital hemodialysis unit will be treated in Souris or Summerside until the Charlottetown clinic passes at least two water tests. (John Robertson/CBC - image credit)

The hemodialysis clinic at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital will be closed "for the next several days" after bacterial cultures were found in the water system.

Just under 70 kidney patients use the clinic, and most of them will receive hemodialysis at either the Prince County Hospital or the Souris Hospital until the QEH clinic reopens.

"There is always a risk that [the bacteria] can come into contact with a patient. So I can't tell you that the risk is zero. I can tell you that the risk is fairly low," said Derek Chaudhary, nephrologist and medical director of the province's renal program.

The first cultures were identified on Friday through routine testing, said Chaudhary, and additional tests on the weekend confirmed the presence of bacteria.

All patients who use the hemodialysis clinic were notified of the findings on Friday.

Chaudhary said the water supply used in the dialysis is purified, and checked regularly for impurities or bacteria.

"We're trying to figure out right now where the bacteria may have entered and where it may be," he said.

He said that if a patient was exposed to the bacteria, they won't necessarily show symptoms. If they did, however, it would show up as an infection.

"So fever, chills, not feeling well ... symptoms that we have already described to our patients. They're well aware of what to look for if they were to become sick."

Crucial for kidney patients

Hemodialysis machines filter wastes, salts and fluid from a person's blood when their kidneys no longer function well enough to do this work on their own. The blood is pumped out and passes through a membrane called a dialyzer before being returned to the patient's body.

Kidney patients need the procedure done three times a week, if their own kidney function is at 15 per cent or below.

Chaudhary said some patients are able to still receive hemodialysis in Charlottetown, in a setting which doesn't use the same water system as the clinic.

The others are being diverted to the PCH and the Souris Hospital.

"What we've been able to do is work with the staff we have in Charlottetown and also our team members and other hospitals to move around patients," said Chaudhary.

Bus transportation arranged

Chaudhary said they have also arranged for bus transportation to Souris and Summerside for patients who may need it.

He said the reopening of the clinic is hard to predict.

"We're hopeful that by the end of the week, things will be up and running again," he said.

The clinic requires at least two clear water test results before reopening.

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