• Nine other babies treated with antibiotics
  • Strain involved must be reported by acute trusts

A trust has reviewed infection prevention and control measures after a premature baby was infected with pseudomonas in a neonatal intensive care unit.

The baby later died, although pseudomonas is not thought to have been the cause. Nine other babies in the neonatal intensive care unit at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford were treated with antibiotics after skin swabs showed traces of the bacteria, although none of them were found to have bloodstream infections from it. 

Pseudomonas bacteria are commonly found in soil, plants and water supplies but pose a significant risk to people with weakened immune systems.

The strain involved in the case – pseudomonas aeruginosa – has to be reported by acute trusts. In 2017-18, the first year of mandatory surveillance, there were 1,619 “hospital onset” cases in England. However, few cases were reported among infants and young children.

East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust has treated the outbreak in October as a serious incident. HSJ understands the baby who died was very premature and severely unwell before the infection was found and the pseudomonas infection was not given as a cause of death.

In a statement, the trust said: “We carried out deep cleaning of the unit and implemented infection prevention and control processes in accordance with guidance for augmented care units.

“We undertook a number of measures to ensure the safety of babies; this included reviewing infection prevention and control processes, changing to sterile bottled water for nappy changes, using a light box at the entrance of the unit to teach parents, visitors and staff about hand hygiene technique and testing and reviewing all possible sources of pseudomonas in the unit.”

The serious incident investigation concluded the baby had contracted the bacteria in the unit but was unable to pinpoint exactly how the infection occurred, although it did rule out the immediate physical environment within the unit as the cause, a spokesman told HSJ.

Pseudomonas can be found in water or passed between people. However, samples from tap water and sink drains in the unit did not show evidence of the aeruginosa strain.

The 25 bedded unit also had six babies colonised with a strain of MRSA earlier last year, when three staff were discovered to be carriers.