Babies and children * Healthy living

Third baby dies at Belfast hospital neonatal unit

Third baby dies at Belfast hospital neonatal unit Deaths linked to bacterial infection

A major investigation has been launched after a third baby’s death at Belfast Royal Maternity Hospital.

An outbreak of a bacterial infection in the neonatal unit is believed to be to blame.

The bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, thrives in moist conditions and can cause chest, blood and urine infections. While it can be carried harmlessly on human skin it can prove fatal for those whose health is already compromised.

The first two babies to die were both born prematurely and the third death was confirmed this morning. All three are believed to have died in the past week to ten days but the bacterial link has only just been confirmed.

There are currently 25 babies in the unit, which cares for ill or premature newborns. All are being tested for the infection and those found to be clear will be treated in other parts of the hospital or transferred elsewhere. Admission to the unit is now being restricted.

Consultant Clifford Mayes, who works in the neonatal unit, said he appreciated that this was an "extremely difficult" time for parents of children in the unit.

But he said urgent efforts were under way to identify the source of the infection.

Pseudomonas in itself is “not infectious”, he added, “but because it exists in water or where things are moist, what we are having to do is investigate very thoroughly the unit itself in efforts to try to identify a source.

“Patients can carry it on their skin and not be affected, or they can develop problems with chest infections or bloodstream infections. The population of the unit are often extremely premature, very small babies and therefore they are very vulnerable.”

A mother of a baby girl in the unit told BBC Northern Ireland’s Stephen Nolan Show of her anxious wait for results.

"She's just seven weeks old and was born at just 24 weeks, weighing just 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.

"It takes about 48 hours for results to come back so hopefully we'll find out today."

Northern Ireland’s health minister Edwin Poots said locating the source of the infection was a priority.

"This is a serious incident. I have asked the trust to work with the Public Health Agency to ensure all necessary steps are swiftly taken to identify the source of the infection so that we contain it and reduce the risk of spreading," he said.

Dr Richard Wright, associate medical director at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, confirmed: "We are engaged in a fairly major investigation to identify the cause of the infection."

The infection is only affecting the neo-natal unit and the hospital's delivery suite is operating normally, doctors said.

This article was published on Fri 20 January 2012

Image © Julián Rovagnati -

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