Newborn deaths spark hospital scare
TWO heavily pregnant women have made a 100-mile journey to Dublin after three babies died in the Belfast maternity unit where they were due to give birth, it emerged last night.
They were referred to a maternity unit in Dublin by a consultant in the Royal Hospital in Belfast, which has been hit with an outbreak of the bug pseudomonas aeruginosa in its neonatal unit, causing the deaths of the three babies.
The Belfast unit cares for very premature and small infants who are very vulnerable to the bacteria, which can cause infections in the chest, blood and urine. It is to be closed down for a deep clean after hospital managers launched an investigation into the outbreak.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said maternity hospitals in the Republic would accommodate any babies who needed to transferred -- but a spokeswoman for the Belfast hospital said this would not be necessary.
The first baby died on January 6 and the second on January 13. The third infant died late on Thursday night.
Consultant Clifford 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. The babies now are being moved, depending on the results as they come back."
There are more than 200 reported cases of the bug in Irish hospitals annually and it is particularly feared by cystic fibrosis patients, who can suffer a form of pneumonia when it enters lung tissue.
However, Susan Knowles, microbiologist at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin, the largest maternity hospital in the State, said it was not common and she saw about one case every three to five years.
She told the Irish Independent: "The basic precautions such as hand washing are essential. It is also important to ensure proper care for babies who have tubes going down into their chest to keep them breathing.
"There needs to be a lot of cleaning of equipment and because this is a bacterium that likes water it must always be sterile water."
"It is relatively rare to happen in maternity hospitals and most of the time it is a single isolated case. It appears to be an outbreak in Belfast."
It is expected to take at least a week to confirm if the deaths were definitely due to the infection.
Doctors in Belfast said there was no need for women admitted to the hospital to give birth to be worried as the infection was contained.
The HSE said all hospitals in the Republic have standard systems in place to detect clusters of any infection, including this bug.
The source is frequently traced back to contaminated water in sinks and drains. It has the ability to survive for up to several days on surfaces, increasing the risk to patients.
It has become resistant to several antibiotics but there are still a number of these drugs available to tackle it.