Infected IV drip kills baby, 14 others suffering from blood poisoning

5 June 2014

Infected IV drip kills baby, 14 others suffering from blood poisoning

Infected intravenous fluid poisons newborn and 14 others as six neonatal care units in hospitals around the UK fall victim to infected batch distributed by private company.

A newborn baby has died from blood poisoning after being infected by a contaminated batch of liquid food which had been distributed to the neonatal intensive care units of several hospitals across London and the south-east of England. Worryingly, 14 other newborns in six separate hospitals are currently suffering from blood poisoning after the fluid drips had been administered to them.

All the babies were originally in neonatal ICU as they could not be fed by mouth and could only be fed by liquid food drip, this was because they were either premature, poorly and too vulnerable and frail to have solid food administered to them. The liquid feed products which caused the blood poisoning were all provided by a specialist private company called ITH Pharma Limited, based in north-west London.

Contagious liquid feed

The bacteria within the liquid feed was extremely contagious, causing the life-threatening septicaemia which took the life of one baby and harmed 14 others who are currently responding to antibiotics but which are still poorly. has often helped patients in cases of where septicaemia has arisen and it remains one of the most powerful and damaging forms of blood poisoning and which requires prompt and efficient diagnosis.

The babies in question quickly fell ill one after another over this past weekend, leading to the search for the source of the bacteria. Due to the underlying problems the 14 other babies had, Public Health England (PHE) has said that while they survived the initial outbreak of the blood poisoning, they remain under close supervision.

The cases that were reported included the following hospitals:

·  Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, London (four)

·  Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Foundation Trust, London (three)

·  Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (three)

·  Addenbrooke's, Cambridge University Hospitals (two)

·  Luton and Dunstable University Hospital (two)

·  The Whittington Hospital, London (one)

Chelsea and Westminster hospital was the first hospital to report the septicaemia after the babies demonstrated severe symptoms of looked like food poisoning. Over the next few days further cases were identified, with the sad news that one baby had actually died at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS trust after falling ill.

After PHE had been notified and a swift investigation was underway, it was soon identified that the contaminated liquid feed by a private company called ITH Pharma Limited was the eventual source of the contamination.

"Initially they were looking at the environment – at the taps and the laundry," a PHE spokeswoman said.  It was only after ruling this out as a cause did the doctors turn to intravenous feeding. "Doctors were asked what feed they had used," said the spokeswoman, identifying the potential source.

What do we know about ITH Pharma Limited?

All the neonatal units impacted by the outbreak of blood poisoning had received supplies from the same batch of liquid feed supplied by the private company ITH Pharma Limited. Investigators from the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority) contacted company staff early yesterday. Discussions with the staff established that an incident had taken place at the factory which could have led to contamination with a bacterium known as Bacillus cereus, which is safely carried on the skin but can cause food poisoning if it enters the gut or septicaemia if it enters the blood stream.

ITH Pharma issued a statement through lawyers saying it was "very saddened to hear about the death of a baby in hospital, and that 14 others are ill with septicaemia".

"ITH Pharma is a specialist manufacturer of parenteral nutrition, which is given to babies in neo-natal intensive care units. The products in question, which are no longer in circulation, are made to order for individual patients on a daily basis, in response to bespoke orders from hospitals.

"We are co-operating fully with the MHRA in the investigation, and are doing everything we can to help them establish the facts in this case as quickly as possible."

Investigations are underway

"This is a very unfortunate incident and PHE have been working closely with the MHRA to investigate how these babies could have become infected," said Professor Mike Catchpole, in charge of the incident at PHE. "Given that the bacteria is widely spread in the environment we are continuing to investigate any other potential sources of infection. However all our investigations to date indicate that the likely source of the infection has been identified. We have acted quickly to investigate this issue alongside the MHRA and we have taken action to ensure that the affected batches and any remaining stock of this medicine is not being used in hospitals."

The liquid feed only has a seven-day life and the batch expired on 2 June. Experts from the MHRA are now inspecting the premises where the feed was made to establish how the contamination came about.

"All three babies affected have responded to treatment and are progressing well," said Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS trust. "We have spoken with the parents of the three babies and have prepared a briefing note for all other parents of babies on the unit."

Is there still a risk of further contamination?

Chelsea and Westminster NHS trust said all four babies affected there were responding to treatment. "Every baby on the unit has been screened for this bacterium as a precaution and even more stringent infection control measures have been put in place. Initially admissions to the unit were restricted but we are now returning to full operational capacity," it said in a statement. "The Trust took immediate action and were the first to inform Public Health England as soon as the problem was identified and we continue to work closely with them to investigate this issue."

Dr Jennifer Birch, clinical director for neonatal intensive care at Luton and Dunstable University hospital, said: "We are informing all the parents whose babies are being cared for in our neonatal intensive care unit about this situation. We are reassuring them that the infection does not spread from baby to baby. The two babies who have been infected are being treated with antibiotics and we are using an alternative type of parenteral nutrition."

If you or a loved one has been impacted by this news, our specialist septicaemia teams can help you make a complaint or to escalate your concerns further. We can provide you with advice, guidance and support about what you can do to raise your concerns.