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B.C. medical tourists at risk of bugs

By Patrick Colvin

People walk in a corridor of the hospital Auxilio Mutuo that houses liver and kidney transplant centres, in San Juan. 
REUTERS

People walk in a corridor of the hospital Auxilio Mutuo that houses liver and kidney transplant centres, in San Juan. REUTERS

Experts warn that medical tourists from B.C. are at risk of bringing back infectious antibiotic-resistant organisms along with their new kidney, hip, or dentures.

Harvard University professor Glenn Cohen is in Vancouver to give a lecture on issues relating to people travelling abroad for medical operations, and says antibiotic-resistant organisms pose a serious threat to the B.C. health-care system.

“There’s a big problem of bringing back multi-drug resistant bacteria and other kinds of things that can spread within a hospital system,” said Cohen. “I did a study with Jeremy Snyder and some others here in Vancouver, we talked to B.C. patient care coordinators and many of them said that they don’t always know when patients have been abroad … so they’re afraid of these kinds of infections, especially when a patient doesn’t disclose that they’ve been abroad.”

According to Cohen, India and Pakistan are two destinations that attract medical tourists from the West. He said one example of an antibiotic-resistant organism is New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), which is an enzyme commonly found in India and Pakistan that makes bacteria resistant to antibiotics. People travelling to those regions for operations are at risk of catching NDM-1 in a clinical environment and can unknowingly bring it back to Canada where it can spread, he said.

“This can spread quickly, it’s just one example but it’s a pretty potent one,” said Cohen.

“If you come to India as a tourist there is potential that you could come in contact with these types of organisms, but it’s much more likely if you’re there as a medical tourist, and even more likely if you’re there doing something more invasive like an organ transplant,” said Simon Fraser University associate professor Jeremy Snyder.

“(Antibiotic-resistant organisms) is seen as one of the biggest health threats of the 21st century, so it’s something we should be paying a lot of attention to,” said Snyder.