Sink taps source of infection that killed three babies
Sink taps were the source of an infection which killed three babies at a Belfast hospital, the Northern Ireland health minister has confirmed.
Edwin Poots told the NI Assembly that the Pseudomonas bacteria had been traced to taps at a neo-natal unit in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital.
The unit was deep cleaned at the weekend after six babies were found to be infected.
A seventh case which emerged on Tuesday has now been confirmed as Pseudomonas.
That child remains very ill.
Sterile water is now to be used for nappy changing in the neo-natal unit.
"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 neonatal unit in the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital," Mr Poots told the assembly on Tuesday.
"The Trust Health Estates team are in the process of removing and replacing all taps and related pipe work in the affected area."
The health minister stressed that there was no evidence that the bacterium was in the water system.
He said the trust had taken specialist advice from England and work would be carried out over the next few weeks to ensure the environment was safe.
He said new ultraviolet light taps which kill bacteria at source would be introduced in the neo-natal unit as a result of the infection.
"The unit will only be opened once all remedial work is completed and tests show that it is safe to nurse babies in this environment," he added.
So far seven babies have been infected; three died, two recovered, one recovered but later died from unrelated causes and one has pneumonia and is potentially infected.
Eight other babies are carrying the bacteria on their skin, but are not infected.
"The circumstances surrounding this are complex and there is considerable detective work involved," Mr Poots said.
"Our neo-natal network is managing well and well-established arrangements are in place.
"My priority is to manage the outbreak which is a complex and dynamic situation."
Earlier on Tuesday, the BBC learned that the Western Health Trust dealt with three cases of the pseudomonas infection before last Christmas.
One baby being treated in Altnagelvin's neo-natal unit died, while another made a full recovery.
A third was transferred to the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast.
All three infants had a different strain of the infection that is currently being investigated at the Royal Maternity's neo-natal unit.
It has been confirmed that sink taps were the source of the infection at Altnagelvin.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is found widely in soil and stagnant water. It does not usually cause illness in healthy people but can pose a serious threat to people with weak immune systems.