Babies′ deaths put spotlight on hospital hygiene | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.11.2011
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Germany

Babies' deaths put spotlight on hospital hygiene

The deaths of three premature babies in a Bremen neonatal clinic has prompted renewed calls for more hygienic expertise in German hospitals.

Symbolic photo showing newborn's hand grasping an adult's finger

Premature babies have been at risk from infection

The health ministry of the German city-state of Bremen says that the three neonatal deaths since August in the city-state's Central Hospital have been traced to drug-resistant bacteria. Ministry spokeswoman Karla Götz said four surviving premature newborns remain sick.

Specialists from Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI) had been sent to the Bremen hospital to identify the source of the infection, she added. She rejected speculation that contaminated liquid nutrition might have led to the fatalities. "We still do not know the [exact] cause." The ward had, however, as a precaution ceased taking in further newborns.

Entrance of clinic, showing building facade and ambulance parked outside

Bremen's Central Hospital has ceased to admit premature babies

The clinic's management, meanwhile, is facing criticism from opposition parties in the Bremen parliament for its delay in notifying the public about the outbreak. The first death occurred on August 8; the latest last Thursday, October 27. Clinic managers said they had notified authorities.

Bremen prosecutors say they have begun an investigation.

Renewed calls for better hygiene in clinics

The outbreak, reminiscent of three neonatal deaths in Mainz in central Germany in August last year, has prompted the German Association for Hospital Hygiene to demand more personnel in clinics nationwide. Association spokesman Klaus-Dieter Zastrow told German ZDF public television on Thursday that nursing staff were often overworked.

Studies had shown, Zastrow said, that premature babies required especially "delicate" one-on-one supervision. "One cannot jump to-and-fro between six newborns. If there is a shortage of personnel, then the risk of infection climbs rapidly," he said.

In July the German parliament passed new hygiene legislation requiring standardized hygiene practices nationwide to overcome a patchwork of regulations across 16 federal states.

Deaths through preventable infections

At the time, the federal health ministry confirmed estimates that each year between 10,000 and 15,000 patients of all ages die from hospital infections.

The Robert Koch Institute was asked to draw up recommendations for doctors in dealing with multiply resistant pathogens and how to efficiently use antibiotics long known to mutate.

Experts at a surgeons' conference in Munich in May said the key remedy was prevention through more stringent hygiene in clinics. As a result, clinic infection could be lowered by up to 30 percent, they said.

The babies who died in Bremen were infected with stomach bacteria which emit an enzyme that deactivates common antibiotics. The bacterial behavior - not a form of mutation - is known as Extended-Spectrum-Beta Laktamasen (ESBL).

Author: Ian Johnson (dpa, AFP, Reuters, dapd)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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