Northern Ireland

Pseudomonas bacteria found at Ulster Hospital

Ulster Hospital
Image caption The infection was found at the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald

Pseudomonas bacteria like those which killed four babies have been found in a third Northern Irish hospital.

It was detected in water outlets in the neo-natal intensive care unit of the Ulster Hospital near Belfast.

None of the babies in the unit has tested positive for the infection but screening is ongoing.

Separate outbreaks of pseudomonas claimed the life of one baby in Altnagelvin, Londonderry, last month and three babies in Belfast recently.

Seven more babies remain infected by pseudomonas.

Staff in hospitals have been told to avoid using tap water with babies, while tests on water outlets and necessary refits are carried out.

The health service update on the outbreaks said: "According to the latest figures, there are no new cases of Pseudomonas infection at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital's (RJMH) neo-natal unit, so the overall total who have been infected in this outbreak remains at seven.

"It was also confirmed yesterday (Friday) that the number of babies who have the Pseudomonas bacteria on their skin associated with the RJMH outbreak remains unchanged at seven.

"It is not causing active infection in these babies."

In a statement, the Department of Health said all necessary precautions were being taken to avoid the spread of infection.

"A carefully planned programme is under way to ensure that all appropriate control measures are in place across all trusts to minimise the risk of Pseudomonas," the statement said.

"An ongoing programme of testing water and replacement of taps in the neo-natal intensive care units in all trusts has commenced and will be completed as soon as possible. Until this programme has been completed, tap water will not be used directly with the babies.

"All staff will continue to use alcohol hand gel following hand washing. It is important also that the public continues to follow good hygiene practice when visiting hospital."

Five hospitals in Northern Ireland have neo-natal intensive care facilities.

Most babies would be cared for at the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast, but there is also provision at the Ulster Hospital; Antrim Area Hospital; Craigavon Hospital and Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry.

Two more hospitals, the Erne Hospital in Enniskillen and Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, can provide neo-natal intensive care for one baby in each hospital if needed.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a relatively common type of infection encountered in UK hospitals, and its tough nature and the severity of the symptoms it causes mean it is a priority for infection control departments.

There have been a number of outbreaks in hospitals in the UK, with the source sometimes traced back to contaminated water in sinks and drains.

It has the ability to survive for up to several days on surfaces, further increasing the risk of it being passed on to patients.

Latest figures suggest that the number of Pseudomonas infections is fairly steady, with between 3,700 and 4,000 cases reported to the Health Protection Agency each year.

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