Belfast Telegraph

Deadly bacteria which led to deaths of four infants found on another baby in hospital

BY CLAIRE GRAHAM

A deadly bacteria which caused the deaths of four infants last year has been found on a baby at another Northern Ireland hospital.

The bacteria, which poses a threat to people with weak immune systems, such as the elderly, the sick or very young babies, was discovered two weeks ago at the neonatal intensive care unit at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen. The six-bed unit was closed for one week.

The Western Trust was unable to confirm if other hospitals were told Pseudomonas was the reason behind the closure of the unit to infants outside of the trust from November 8-15.

Last year, four infants died in Northern Ireland after developing Pseudomonas infections. The first died after contracting the bug at the Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, while the other three died in January after catching a different strain at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority investigating the deaths criticised a lack of communication between health officials.

The independent review team, led by Professor Pat Troop, subsequently found there was a lack of communication between staff in health trusts during the outbreak.

In the latest case, the health minister said the bug was discovered at the £250m hospital a fortnight ago during routine testing of water systems.

The colonisation of Pseudomonas – which is when the bacteria is found on the skin but does not necessarily cause infection – triggered the week-long closure to children outside of the trust.

It comes seven months after the bug was found in drinking water dispensers in the same hospital.

The Western Trust covers the largest area in Northern Ireland and includes large population centres in Londonderry, Omagh, Strabane and Enniskillen.

Professor of Bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, Hugh Pennington, said: "The danger the bug can cause should not be underestimated, even in one case."

DUP Health Committee member, David McIlveen, acknowledged the seriousness of having deadly bugs around small, sick, vulnerable babies.

"Obviously we could be having a conversation about fatalities and other serious issues here, and for that I'm thankful it's not the case," he said.

A statement from the Western Trust confirmed the temporary closure was a "precautionary measure".

No further positive results of Pseudomonas were found from swabbing during the shut-down period.

Health Minister Edwin Poots said the unit had now fully reopened following further testing.

"All babies in the unit were managed according to regional guidance published after the incidents of Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection in neonatal units in Northern Ireland, and following screening, no babies in the unit returned positive results.

"I can reassure the public that this is not an issue with the water quality of the main water supply, and that regular testing continues to take place to ensure patient safety."

In a statement, the Western Trust said they "informed colleagues in other Health and Social Care Trusts and the Public Health Agency, as is appropriate according to regional guidance and processes. The Department of Health do not get notified about single isolated cases of colonisation of Pseudomonas."

BACKGROUND

* Pseudomonas is a bacteria which multiplies in the lungs of people whose immune systems are weakened by illness or medication

* It can be spread from person to person via unwashed hands

* It can live for up to two-and-a-half hours

* Symptoms of a Pseudomonas chest infection can include increased coughing and tiredness

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