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One baby has died and 14 others are fighting for their lives after being poisoned in neonatal care units in the UK.

A public health alert was issued by health chiefs last night after it emerged that all the newborns’ infections were caused by a contaminated batch of nutrition drip.

The children were affected at neonatal intensive care units at six different hospitals, but the infected drip is believed to have been used in 22 hospitals across the country.

Officials said that one newborn baby has died. Another 14 remain ill with blood poisoning, but were last night responding to antibiotics.

The newborns, most of whom were premature, were being fed through a tube into their bloodstream because they were too poorly to be mouth fed.

Medical regulators are investigating an incident

which occured last Thursday at a London manufacturing plant owned by ITH Pharma Ltd, affecting the liquid feed produced that day.

The contamination is believed to have been accidental rather than any act of sabotage, with the illness caused by a common bacterium known as Bacillus cereus.

All of the feeds which could be contaminated have since been recalled. Regulators said because the blood poisoning develops quickly they were not anticipating further cases,

although this could not be ruled out.

Last night paediatric doctors said the contamination was “every parent’s worst nightmare” and that urgent action must be taken to improve the safety of processes to produce such nutrition.

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics, University of Bristol, said: “When a medicine makes patients sick, it is everyone’s worst nightmare. This contamination incident seems to have been detected quickly but, tragically, not quickly enough to save a life lost.

“Having stopped the outbreak, the next priority will be to understand how it came to happen and ensure it cannot recur.”

The first case appeared at Chelsea and Westminster hospital on Saturday and then other London hospitals began to see cases over the weekend. It was thought to have been caused by infected bedding or similar products used locally until cases began appearing elsewhere on Monday and Tuesday.

The final cases at Luton were diagnosed early yesterday and investigations soon identified the feed as the likely cause, a spokesman for Public Health England said.

Bacillus cereus is a bacteria found widely in the environment in dust, soil and vegetation. Most surfaces would be likely to test positive for its presence. Dr Susan Hill, a consultant paediatric gastroenterologist, said, “This is a life-saving treatment for babies who are born very prematurely or with a severe gut problem. Any challenge to their immune system can be life-threatening.”

The Daily Telegraph

Henry Sapiecha

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