Two newborn babies have died after contracting a rare killer bug which swept through a neonatal unit at a scandal-hit hospital.
The unit has now been closed and deep cleaned after staff discovered deadly bacteria at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) which left five other tots fighting for their lives.
The worrying outbreak infected seven children in total – four have now been allowed to return home while another remains in intensive care.
After the bug was detected in July the hospital continued to admit babies born in the centre, although it closed to admissions from other hospitals.
Now a review of practices at the hospital by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is underway.
Post-mortem examinations on the babies, both born before 28 weeks, found they died from the Serratia Marcescens bacteria.
Further tests on the surviving newborns showed the infection had been picked up while on the ward.
The surviving infants were found to be carriers of the bug and did not suffer the illness itself.
But they were placed in isolation incubators while their treatment continued for conditions linked to be being born prematurely.
Last night, chief executive Julie Bridgewater said: “We identified the infection in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit(NICU). It can affect babies born extremely premature.
“Sadly two babies who died, both born before 28 weeks, had this uncommon infection and postmortems confirmed Serratia Marcescens as the cause of death.
“The families of the two babies were informed at the time of this infection.”
UHNS infection experts said the parents of babies already discharged had no need to worry.
Consultant Microbiologist Dr Jeorge Orendi said: “As a precaution we temporarily closed NICU to new admissions.
“The five other babies who were carrying the organism, but not unwell, were isolated.
“One of those continues to be treated on the unit for other conditions and will remain here until well enough to go home.
“In addition we carried out a deep clean of neonatal intensive care and reviewed infection prevention practice immediately with assistance from the HPA.
“Further tests on the organisms isolated performed by the HPA confirmed an outbreak.
“The unit introduced enhanced contact isolation and weekly screening.
“There have been no new cases of infection of babies carrying the organism since the initial cases were first identified in July.
“All the families with babies on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the time that the infection was identified were kept fully informed.”
Serratia Marcescens is found in the stomach and bowel of children and can cause serious illness in premature babies.