A deep clean of a Belfast hospital where three babies have died following the outbreak of a deadly infection is expected to be completed on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, the parents of 24 babies being treated in the neonatal unit at Belfast Royal Maternity Hospital this week face an agonising wait to learn whether their children have the infection after they each underwent tests. The results will be made available on Monday.
Health officials said a helpline (028 9063 5389) set up to support expectant mothers worried about giving birth at the neonatal unit has been extended due to demand. The service was due to end on Saturday but continuing calls from panic-stricken women forced the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust to keep lines open.
Three infants have died from the outbreak and four others were found to have contracted it. One child is currently being treated, two have fully recovered and one other made a recovery but subsequently died of an unrelated cause.
A spokesman for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said the baby who is still undergoing treatment is responding well.
Pseudomonas affects the chest, blood and urinary tract. They live in water or moisture and patients can carry it on their skin. The infection can be treated with the right antibiotic, but the third baby who died failed to respond to the treatment.
There are usually fewer than 80 cases of it annually across Northern Ireland. Overall numbers in Northern Ireland, England and Wales have declined over the last few years. There were a total of 3,807 cases of all strands of pseudomonas reported in 2010, a slight drop from 3,888 in 2009 and 3,957 cases in 2008.
One expert said the number of cases has fallen due to an increased awareness and better hygiene in hospitals.
Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots has revealed that the number of confirmed cases of pseudomonas in babies at the hospital is six, not seven as previously believed.Three babies have died and three others have contracted the infection, which affects the chest, blood and urinary tract.
Mr Poots said: "I fully understand the anxiety of parents and the wider community; however, we are doing everything we can to ensure safe continuity of care for the babies and support for their families."