Baby death triggers superbug probe

MARK NICHOLLS Health chiefs have launched an urgent investigation at Norfolk's major hospital to establish if a deadly new superbug led to the death of a premature baby in a special unit.

MARK NICHOLLS

Health chiefs have launched an urgent investigation at Norfolk's major hospital to establish if a deadly new superbug led to the death of a premature baby in a special unit.

Five more babies are being monitored at the neonatal unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The bug has been identified as non-MRSA Panton-Valentine Leukocidin (PVL) positive S aureu, and there are fears it may have contributed to the death of the infant.

The source of the infection is not yet known.

Tests on five other babies in the 28-bed neonatal unit - carried out on Tuesday - have confirmed they have had PVL + S. aureus. Screening indicates that one other baby is probable positive.

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The N&N says the cluster of cases is the first ever to be seen in its neonatal unit.

Yesterday consultant microbiologist Dr Judith Richards, who leads the N&N's infection control operation, said: “The babies affected in the unit are all successfully being treated and decolonised, and they are all currently clinically well. We believe the control measures introduced mean that these babies, and others in the unit, are not now at any significant risk from this strain of S. aureus.

“Our routine microbiology monitoring did very quickly pick up a rise in background Staphylococcus aureus and rapid further investigation has confirmed PVL in five babies. We have taken prompt action to treat the babies concerned and we are working with the Health Protection Agency to identify the source of this infection.”

The N&N say the infection is a rare strain of Staphlyococcus aureus (S. aureus) but is not the same MRSA-related strain that led to the deaths of two people in the West Midlands.

PVL is rarely seen in hospitals and can be treated. All five babies currently on the N&N unit are being treated with antibiotics and are said to be doing well.

But a sixth baby, who was born at 26 weeks old and very poorly, died of an infection a week after birth on December 11. The laboratory tests have since confirmed that child had a PVL infection.

The N&N says that all the unit staff, the close relatives of the babies affected, and all the babies on the unit have been swabbed to screen for PVL+ S. aureus to see if any further antibiotic treatments are necessary.

The unit has undergone additional specialist cleaning and has been closed to new admissions from other hospitals, with visiting on the unit is also being restricted to parents only.

The source of the infection is not yet known. Such infections tend not to be hospital-based and it is more likely to have been brought from the community into the unit at some stage over the period 22 November to 19 December.

Of the five confirmed cases, two were transferred to Norwich from other East Anglian hospitals, one was a home birth, and two were born at N&N.

The hospital says that looking back over microbiology records for the past three months the hospital has seen no indicators of PVL+ S. aureus at all prior to this cluster of cases.

Chief Executive Paul Forden said: “Our neonatal unit cares for the very youngest and most critically ill of all our patients. It is tragic that this infection may have played a part in the death of a 27 week old baby and our thoughts are with the parents concerned.”