The death of a baby boy from MRSA has triggered new fears about the danger of the hospital superbug.

The death of a baby boy from MRSA has triggered new fears about the danger of the hospital superbug.

Luke Day died 36 hours after he was born at the 900-bed Ipswich Hospital in Suffolk, of septicaemia - blood poisoning contracted through the umbilical cord. A post-mortem examination conducted at Great Ormond Street children's hospital found MRSA was the cause.

Kevin Fenton, 24, Luke's father, said he was shocked to discover MRSA was not initially stated on the death certificate, and had refused to sign it. "I was so annoyed - how many other people have been in the same shoes? The true picture isn't available to the public. I have no confidence in the NHS now," he said.

The hospital denied a cover-up and insisted it was the result of a misunderstanding. A spokeswoman for the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority said: "The cause of death was initially given as septicaemia. It takes time for MRSA to incubate in the laboratory. As soon as the results were known the parents were informed and a new certificate issued."

Luke was born naturally on 2 February, weighing 7lb 7oz. The hospital said it was a "complicated" birth, but he showed no signs of ill health. His mother, Glynis Day, 17, a kitchen assistant at a home for the elderly, blamed poor standards of cleaning for their loss.

She said: "They told us they had no understanding of what had happened. He had no symptoms or anything. As far as they were concerned Luke was just a normal, healthy baby.

"I just can't believe how MRSA can kill a tiny little baby. I want people to know that things like this can happen. Something needs to be done to sort hospitals out, like more money for cleaners instead of people sitting in offices."

Luke's grandmother, Kathy Day, 55, resigned from her job at the hospital, as a support worker for day patients, in protest at the death. "Something needs to be done to clean up hospitals and stop this bug killing any more babies. We have got to be brave and speak out to make sure this doesn't happen again," she said.

The source of the infection remained a mystery but the hospital promised further investigations.

Chris Dooley, the acting chief executive of Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, said the case was "wholly exceptional". Tests on staff, patients and the maternity facilities found no trace of MRSA. "The sudden death of baby Luke is a tragedy of the highest proportion. We do not, as yet, understand how such a tragedy as this could occur when the ward and maternity area are completely free of MRSA. We are committed to finding the reason and are determined to address anything which this investigation shows needs action," he said.

Mr Dooley said there had been cases of the MRSA infection of mothers and babies in the past, but this was the first death.

The political sensitivity of the case was underscored by interventions from both main parties. John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, said there were 2,000 infant deaths a year. "Every single death is a tragedy. On average one of those 2,000 deaths is caused by MRSA and that is a tragedy. Our thoughts are with the family."

The Conservative leader, Michael Howard, whose mother-in-law was killed by MRSA sent his "deepest sympathies" to the family.

He added: "I know what it is like to have a close family member who has been the victim of MRSA and I can imagine the grief that the family are experiencing. We have made it absolutely clear that cleaner hospitals are one of our five priorities."

Hospital records obtained by the East Anglian Daily Times under the Freedom of Information Act show 1,047 cases of MRSA infection were diagnosed during 2004 - the equivalent of 2.9 new cases a day. This has risen from 944 or 2.6 new cases per day in 2003.

The figures are higher than those released this month by the Health Protection Agency (HPA), which include only the most severe bloodstream infections caused by MRSA.

Caroline Vergo, an infection control nurse specialist at the hospital, said: "The figure of 1,047 shows all patients found to have any sign of MRSA and the severity of this varies widely. It is an extremely small percentage of patients, but I would like to see the figures a lot lower.

"The most important thing to remember is that MRSA is out there in the community, in nursing homes, residential homes, even gyms. Nobody is really exempt from it."

She added: "Most people don't necessarily know they've got it and don't find out unless we have cause to swab them."

The hospital has one MRSA-free ward, where all patients are swabbed before they are admitted, used for patients who need hip and knee replacements. Another MRSA-free ward is planned for next year. But the burden on the hospital laboratory of testing all patients for MRSA would be too great, she said .

"It would be wonderful to manage all wards like that but you can't do it because of the sheer volume of patients."

Michael Summers, chairman of the Patients Association, which carried out a survey of babies who contracted MRSA while in hospital, said: "MRSA is beginning to make itself felt in neo-natal wards which is surprising to us because it is these sorts of units that are considered to be the best secured.

"We were a little surprised to find it had infiltrated into baby wards. It was a distressing situation."

BATTLE AGAINST INFECTION

* There were 955 deaths from MRSA in 2003 - one in five of all deaths from hospital infections.

* 7,647 patients suffered bloodstream infections of MRSA in 2003-04.

* Fifty-two children under the age of five developed MRSA bloodstream infections in 2004.

* 48 per cent of hospitals rated good or excellent for cleanliness.

* The cost to the NHS of treating patients with infections acquired in hospital is more than £1bn.

* The National Audit Office blamed chronic failures by the NHS and said 15 per cent of cases were preventable.

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