Intensive care unit cleared after bug kills three babies

Expectant mothers transferred after deaths are linked to bacterium in Belfast hospital

A neonatal intensive care unit was being cleared yesterday after three babies died from the same infection in two weeks.

The outbreak at the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast has been traced to a bacterium called pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can affect the lungs, skin or gut.

Expectant mothers booked into the maternity hospital with a high risk of giving birth prematurely are to be transferred to other hospitals in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic or Britain.

Colm Donaghy, chief executive of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said the "first priority" was the safety of the babies and ensuring "the work that we do keeps babies safe". A full investigation was being carried out, he said.

Consultant neonatologist Clifford Mayes, who works in the unit, said the first death had occurred on January 6 and the second on January 13, but doctors did not suspect there was a problem until Monday night when results of tests showed both had died of pseudomonas infection. The third death occurred on Thursday night.

Pseudomonas can normally be treated with antibiotics but doctors were unable to save the third baby.

The 31-cot unit has 550 admissions per year. Its patients are extremely premature, very small babies who are highlly vulnerable. All those in the unit at the time have been swabbed for signs of the infection and the unit is being cleaned.

"We've spent the last couple of days trying to support the parents," Dr Mayes said. "Every baby has been screened with skin swabs, looking for any evidence of pseudomonas. It is a germ which can be on your skin and not cause any harm but with a sick patient it can cause very serious problems."

"In itself it is not infectious, but because it exists in water or where things are moist, what we are having to do is investigate the unit very thoroughly to try and identify a source."

The mother of a baby girl in the unit was anxiously waiting for the results.

"She's just seven weeks old and was born at just 24 weeks, weighing one pound seven ounces," she said.

"She has come so far, past illness and the fact that she could get sick again – we really don't want to think about it."

Health Minister Edwin Poots said the authorities were taking the matter very seriously. "It is important we remain calm. Infection control teams are now trying to identify the source of the infection and minimise the risk of spread to other babies in the unit," he said.

A helpline has been set up for parents on 028 90 635 389 and admissions are being restricted.

Pseudomonas: The deadly threat

The pseudomonas bug is not infectious but can be spread by touch – commonly on hands or medical equipment such as catheters and feeding tubes, causing cross-infections in hospitals and clinics.

Its tough nature and the severity of the symptoms it causes mean it is a priority for infection control departments.

There have been a number of outbreaks in hospitals in the UK, with the source sometimes traced back to contaminated water in sinks and drains.

It can survive for several days on surfaces,increasing the risk of it being passed on to patients.

i100'Geography can be tough'
newsVideo targets undecided voters
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    DevOps Engineer - Linux, Shell, Bash, Solaris, UNIX, Salt-Stack

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: A fast growing Financial Services organisation b...

    Trade Desk FIX Analyst - (FIX, SQL, Equities, Support)

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: An award-win...

    DevOps Engineer - (Linux, Shell, Bash)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer - (Linux, Shell, Bash)DevOps Eng...

    Retail Business Architect

    Flexible for the right candidate: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: I have a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis