Bug kills two babies at University Hospital of North Staffordshire

University Hospital of North Staffordshire A deep clean was carried out of the unit, the trust said

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Two premature babies died at a Staffordshire hospital as a result of an infection, it has emerged.

A third baby is still in isolation after the outbreak at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS).

The Serratia marcescens bug shut the unit to new admissions for two weeks in July, but details were only revealed at a hospital meeting on Wednesday.

The infection spread to four other premature babies who have recovered.

The hospital in Stoke-on-Trent said parents whose babies had been discharged from the unit had "no need to worry".

Julia Bridgewater, UHNS NHS Trust chief executive, said: "The trust identified an infection in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in July, serratia marcescens, that can affect babies born extremely premature.

"Sadly, two babies who died, both born before 28 weeks, had this uncommon infection, and post-mortems confirmed Serratia marcescens as the cause of death."

Weekly screenings

She said the families of the two babies were informed at the time of the infection.

"The trust would like to offer its sincere condolences to those families who have lost a baby," she added.

Jeorge Orendi, consultant microbiologist, said: "As a precaution the trust temporarily closed NICU to new admissions, and the five other babies who were carrying the organism, but were not unwell, were isolated."

Serratia marcescens

  • Serratia marcescens is an organism that lives harmlessly in the gut
  • It is usually harmless in healthy people - but it can be serious in those who are vulnerable to infection
  • It can cause urinary tract, wound and bloodstream infections
  • S. marcescens can be transmitted person to person or via equipment
  • It can also be passed on from mother to baby during childbirth
  • An outbreak of S. marcescens in the cardiac unit of Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital in May infected seven patients, but none died

Mr Orendi said after the outbreak the trust "reviewed infection prevention practice immediately" with the help of the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

The trust also carried out a deep clean of the unit.

Serratia marcescens is an organism that occurs naturally in the gut.

To have it on or in the body is not uncommon or harmful in healthy people. However, in cases where people are vulnerable to infection, such as premature babies, the organism can cause serious infection.

Mr Orendi added that the hospital had been carrying out weekly screenings for the infection.

"There have been no new cases of infection or of babies carrying the organism since the initial cases were first identified in July," he said.

"All the families with babies on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the time that the infection was identified were kept fully informed."

'Very vulnerable'

Hugh Pennington, professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said: "It is unusual because hospitals are very good at keeping them [such bugs] at bay."

Hugh Pennington "It is unusual as hospitals are usually good at keeping them at bay"

However, he said the bug "had a track record" of causing problems when it got into the environment of the hospital.

"It's a very common environmental bug. Some people carry it as well without falling ill and it can grow in things like, basically, ordinary water," he said.

"It's not very fastidious in its growth. If it gets established in a hospital, and of course, if the patients themselves are very vulnerable, which of course, these very, very tiny babies are, because their immune systems aren't properly developed, you can get trouble."

BBC Midlands Today health correspondent Michele Paduano said a baby had died at Birmingham's Heartlands Hospital from the same infection about five years ago.

He said the latest information in Stoke had come out in a bundle of papers which had gone before a Primary Care Trust board meeting on Wednesday evening.

UHNS decided not to make the information public until now because there was still a baby being kept in the unit who had been affected, Mr Paduano added.

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