Neonatal unit at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital on alert after Pseudomonas bacteria found

Norwich's neonatal unit is taking extra safety precautions after tests found higher than normal levels of a potentially dangerous bacteria called Pseudomonas.

Three babies are being closely monitored at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, because tests showed they have the bacteria on their skin.

However, this is not causing an active infection, which is when the bacteria can be dangerous.

Pseudomonas can be found in soil, sinks and taps, and does not usually cause illness in healthy people.

But it can cause serious infection when normal defences are weakened, which is why small and premature babies could be more susceptible.


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Hospitals do not have to routinely test for Pseudomonas and there is currently no national guidance on doing so.

However, in December and January Pseudomonas outbreaks led to the deaths of four babies in Northern Ireland hospitals and so the N&N decided to proactively to conduct some tests of the water supply in its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where higher than normal levels of the bacteria were identified.

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Further clinical testing has shown that three babies are colonised with Pseudomonas bacteria, but none of the babies is showing any clinical signs of infection.

As a precautionary measure the unit is now using sterile water instead of tap water, to protect babies in the unit and it will be replacing water pipes and taps, as well as fitting filters.

The hospital clinical team has met individually with the parents of all babies on the unit to explain the situation.

Dr David Booth, consultant in NICU, said: 'The safety of the babies in our care and supporting their parents and families are our priorities.

'We would like to emphasise that none of our babies are showing any signs of Pseudomonal infection.'

The hospital says there may be no link between the bacteria in the water and the babies colonised with the bacteria, but it will have more information when additional test results on the samples are available in the next few days.

Chief executive Anna Dugdale said: 'We have been proactive in looking for something and as a result of finding something we are protecting our babies even more than normal.

'These are vulnerable babies and vulnerable families and the key thing is to protect them and communicate with parents openly and transparently.'

Questions & Answers

What is Pseudomonas?

. Pseudomonas is bacteria which is able to grow and survive in water and moist conditions.

. It can be found on the skin - in the absence of signs of infection this is known as colonisation.

. Colonisation in itself is not harmful.

. If Pseudomonas is found on the skin and there are no signs of infection, treatment is not required.

Can babies who are colonised with the Pseudomonas bacteria get an infection from the bacteria?

It is possible - any baby showing signs of infection will be tested for Pseudomonas for which we have effective antibiotics.

Are you testing the rest of the babies in NICU for this bacteria?

No, at this stage babies will only be tested for Pseudomonas if they are showing signs of infection.

What are you doing about the water supply?

. Tap water is not being used for washing babies or any equipment that has contact with babies, sterile water is being used instead.

. Tap water in the unit is safe for hand washing provided alcohol gel is used afterwards.

. Modifications are being made to the water system and we will continue to test the water until we are satisfied with the water supply.

Is NICU open as normal?

Yes.

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