Soldiers returning from Afghanistan bring home superbug

MONTREAL — Canadian soldiers are bringing home from dusty Afghanistan a powerful, drug-resistant superbug that health officials have been worrying about for several years.

MONTREAL — Canadian soldiers are bringing home from dusty Afghanistan a powerful, drug-resistant superbug that health officials have been worrying about for several years.

Three Canadian soldiers who recently returned from Kandahar carrying so-called “Iraqibacter” are under quarantine at a civilian hospital in Quebec City.

Two civilian patients who came in close contact with the soldiers at Hopital de l’Enfant-Jesus have also been isolated for fear they may have contracted the superbug officially named Acinetobacter baumannii.

The hospital-acquired germ, commonly found in soil and water, strikes weakened immune systems, especially in those recovering from wounds.

It has been known to cause conditions such as pneumonia, meningitis as well as blood, urinary tract and wound infections.

Some people carry the bacteria on their skin without showing symptoms.

Two years ago, the Public Health Agency of Canada warned Canadian hospitals that outbreaks could happen after wounded soldiers returned home from Afghanistan either sickened by the strain, or simply carrying it in their system.

The department did not immediately answer requests for an interview on the subject Thursday.

A 2007 report in the publication Wound Care Canada said incidences of the strain have increased in U.S. military hospitals.

“With more injured soldiers returning to Canada, we would expect the same phenomenon to occur, albeit to a lesser scale, in Canada,” the report said.

“Although rare, the development of significant anti-microbial resistance has made treatment more difficult. It is, therefore, an emerging potential problem within hospitals.”

Military hospitals treating U.S. troops serving in the Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan first noticed an increase in Acinetobacter baumannii infections in 2002, said a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. soldiers have since dubbed the germ “Iraqibacter.”

A spokeswoman for Quebec City’s Hopital de l’Enfant-Jesus said the hospital has treated between 15 and 20 soldiers carrying the organism since 2007.

The three quarantined soldiers stayed at the military hospital in Kandahar before arriving last Friday in Quebec City from the war zone, Genevieve Dupuis said.

“This isn’t the first case we’ve had. We’ve received military patients returning from Afghanistan with this bacterium since 2007,” she said.

She said the civilians are being tested to see if they caught the bug and the hospital has put measures in place to isolate the bacterium, as it would if a patient with c. difficile had been admitted.

“There is nothing to be worried about, not for patients or for visitors or for employees,” Dupuis said.

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