Potentially fatal E coli strain closes neonatal unit

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Potentially fatal E coli strain closes neonatal unit

1st December 2010

A potentially fatal strain of E. coli has been discovered at a South London hospital, forcing the closure and isolation of a unit for premature babies.

Daniel Lee, Head of Clinical Negligence at Fentons Solicitors LLP, said: "Ten cases of the bacteria have been identified on the neonatal unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich. The ward has been closed to outside admissions since November 17 and will now remain closed until the outbreak has been dealt with."

E coli are a common bacteria normally found living harmlessly in the gut. A strain of the bug known as Extended-Spectrum Beta Lactamase (ESBL) which can cause infection of the urinary tract and lead to severe blood poisoning and meningitis was found breeding on the skin of 13 newborn babies. It is feared the strain could enter the babies' bodies via an injection or drip site.

The antibiotic-resistant superbug is far more dangerous than the more commonly known type that causes food poisoning. It was first discovered on a British farm in 2008. Measures to contain the bug were never implemented and it is now thought to be circulating on more than one in three of the country's dairy farms. The infection affects about 30,000 people each year, causing 2,500 cases of blood poisoning. It is believed it first entered the UK on imported chickens.

"Although the Queen Elizabeth Hospital neonatal ward remains closed," said Daniel, a partner with the firm, "Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust has reassured expecting parents that the neonatal ward in University Hospital, Lewisham will take babies from other areas if they have capacity. In addition, the Trust's other two neonatal units at the Princess Royal, Bromley and Queen Mary's, Sidcup remain open as normal."

None of the babies on the infected Queen Elizabeth Hospital ward are clinically affected by the bacteria. The babies who appear to carry the bacteria have been isolated, the rest of the hospital is unaffected and the Trust is currently working with the Health Protection Agency to ensure the correct containment measures are being taken.

"The ESBL strain of E. coli is particularly resistant to the antibiotics most widely used in many hospitals," said Daniel. "These are newborn babies under special care so it is obviously a delicate time for them at present. Once the outbreak has been eradicated there needs to be an investigation and tests carried out to determine how the bacteria entered the unit."

How can Fentons help?
Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to clinical and medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claims questionnaire.

Source - BBC