21/01/2012 07:13 GMT

Baby Death Hospital Tests 24 Infants For Infection That Killed Three

Parents of 24 babies tested for an infection that has killed three others in a Northern Ireland hospital face an agonising wait to see if their child has been infected.

As a deep clean of the neonatal unit at Belfast's Royal Maternity Hospital gets under way, parents have been told the test results will not be available until Monday.

A Belfast Health and Social Care Trust spokesperson confirmed that all babies in the unit who may have been exposed to the infection, caused by the bacteria pseudomonas, have been tested.

Three infants have died from the outbreak and four others were found to have contracted it.

One child is currently being treated, two have fully recovered and one other made a recovery but subsequently died of an unrelated cause.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said the baby who is still undergoing treatment is responding well.

Pseudomonas affects the chest, blood and urinary tract.

Staff will carry out a deep clean of the unit over the weekend, while officials work to identify the source of the infection.

The large intensive care room, which holds up to 13 babies, has already been cleared and the infants moved into separate small rooms.

Two heavily pregnant women have been forced to make the 100-mile journey to Dublin to have their babies because of the outbreak.

Meanwhile, a different - and apparently unlinked - strain of the infection also claimed the life of another baby in Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry last month, health officials said.

The infection was subsequently eradicated and they said there was no evidence to suggest it was linked to the strain that has hit the Royal's maternity unit.

Pseudomonas lives in water or moisture and patients can carry it on their skin. There are usually fewer than 80 cases of it annually in Northern Ireland.

The infection can be treated with the right antibiotic, but the third baby who died failed to respond to the treatment.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots stressed that the neonatal unit is the only part of the hospital affected by the pseudomonas outbreak.

Delivery wards and all other services at the hospital are operating as normal, and expectant mothers have been advised they should attend their appointments as scheduled.

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust chief executive Colm Donaghy said a full investigation into whether anything else could have been done will be carried out.