Just over a year ago, 11 deaths at Cape Breton hospitals were linked to an outbreak of C. difficile, one of several so-called superbugs resistant to antibiotics.

Advancements have been made, but health officials continue to be baffled by bugs like C. difficile.

“The three most common superbugs we see in hospitals today would include Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus, otherwise known as VRE, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA and I think the list would now include Clostridium Difficile,” says Dr. Ross Davidson, a bacteriologist with Capital Health.

Davidson says these and other bugs have come into existence due to overuse and misuse of antibiotics.

“When an organism develops a mutation, which allows it to survive in the presence of antibiotics, it knows within an hour that that mutation is advantageous and inside a day, it’s got a whole population of organisms that are resistant,” says Davidson.

The C. difficile outbreak in Cape Breton served as a learning experience for hospitals all over the Maritimes, as medical experts share information and work together in the common battle against problem bugs.

Outbreaks have forced changes in cleaning protocols, visitor restrictions, monitoring patients who have diarrhea or vomiting, and even things as simple as hand washing.

“There’s more frequent monitoring of hand-washing practices,” says Greg Boone of the Cape Breton District Health Authority. “We’ve continued to make physical changes by adding hand-washing sinks, and changing our furniture that may be harbouring some of the bugs.”

Davidson says antibiotic prescriptions have gone down across Canada - a sign that we’re actively lessening the risk.

However, with the superbugs’ potential to evolve and mutate into newer bugs resistant to more treatments, he says both physicians and patients need to be even more careful.

“They’re not resistant to every antibiotic, for the most part,” says Davidson. “Although, they’re starting to get that way. So again, we need to be vigilant. We need to keep doing surveillance and keep an eye on the problem.”

With files from CTV Atlantic's Ryan MacDonald