A KILLER infection that claimed the lives of three babies in a Belfast hospital has been traced to taps in the neo-natal unit, the Health Minister has said.
All the taps and connected pipe work in the room at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital are to be removed as experts try to eradicate all traces of the pseudomonas bacteria, Edwin Poots told the Assembly.
One baby continues to be treated amid as yet unconfirmed fears that the infant has also contracted the potentially deadly infection.
“I can report that investigations so far have shown that pseudomonas bacteria have been found in a number of taps in the intensive care area of the neo-natal unit in the RJMH,” Mr Poots said.
“The (Belfast) Trust Health Estates team are in the process of removing and replacing all taps and related pipework in the affected area. There is no evidence of pseudomonas in the water system. This indicates that it is likely to be a localised problem.”
An outbreak of a different strain of pseudomonas in Londonderry’s Altnagelvin Hospital last month, which claimed the life of one baby, was also linked to the water system in its neo-natal facilities.
Mr Poots said special ultraviolet technology may be installed in the Province’s hospitals in a bid to prevent further outbreaks.
The incident in Altnagelvin prompted health chiefs to write to all trusts in Northern Ireland reminding them of the infection risks posed by water systems.
Pseudomonas can cause infections in the chest, blood and urinary tract.
The neo-natal unit at the Royal Jubilee, which was emptied in the wake of the outbreak, has undergone a deep clean.
The minister said the baby with suspected pseudomonas had been struck down with pneumonia.
Of three other babies believed to have contracted the infection at the Royal Jubilee, two have recovered and continue to receive neo-natal care, while the third initially recovered but subsequently died of unrelated causes.
Mr Poots said six other babies were found to be carrying traces of the bacteria, for example on their skin, but had shown no signs they had contracted the infection.
He said tests has shown that four babies in other hospital neo-natal units – two in Altnagelvin and two in Craigavon – also had traces of pseudomonas on their skin.
But the minister said none of the four had contracted the infection and said it seemed the babies were not directly linked to the Royal Jubilee outbreak.
“It is important to realise that in normal clinical practice in neo-natal units it is not uncommon to detect this bacteria on the skin of babies,” he added.
“These findings illustrate the complexity of the situation. Although the main focus to date has been on the neo-natal unit in the RJMH, as the bacterium has been found in babies in some of the other neo-natal units, management of this situation requires coordination and cooperation between all trusts.
“The Public Health Agency will therefore ensure that all public health aspects are managed, working closely with the Health and Social Care Board regarding the ongoing provision of neo-natal services. All Trusts will be involved in taking appropriate action as advised.”
There were three cases of pseudomonas in the episode at Altnagelvin last month, resulting in the death of one baby.
Of the other two babies, one recovered, while the second was transferred to the Royal Jubilee.
Mr Poots said appropriate infection control measures were implemented when the infant was moved to Belfast and stressed that the strains of pseudomonas found in the neo-natal units at the two hospitals were different.
The minister said he understood the anxiety the outbreak had caused among parents and the community – and attempted to allay fears.
He said at present “the neo-natal network is managing well”.
“Well-established arrangements are already in place to ensure that when babies require a neo-natal cot they can be transferred to a unit in Northern Ireland or another part of the UK or Republic of Ireland.
“Secondly, I want to reassure women that the delivery wards and all other services at the RJMH are operating as normal. Expectant mothers should attend their appointments as scheduled.”
Mr Poots added it was vital to learn lessons so as to “reduce the risk of this happening again”.