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Pseudomonas FAQs

A hospital in Bristol has just said a premature baby died in neonatal intensive care unit in August and pseudomonas infection contributed to the death. What is pseudomonas? Read our FAQs.
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

10th October 2012 - A hospital in Bristol has just said that pseudomonas infection contributed to the death of a premature baby in a neonatal intensive care unit in August.

Before this case at Southmead Hospital, three babies died from pseudomonas in Northern Ireland in December and January. After those cases, hospital hygiene guidelines and reminders were issued.

What is pseudomonas?

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common bacterium found in soil and ground water. The Health Protection Agency says healthy people are rarely affected by it. It is a major cause of healthcare or hospital associated infections.

The bacteria can be spread by contaminated water, inhaling water droplets, touching contaminated surfaces or it can pass from person-to-person through poor hand hygiene.

Pseudomonas is a particular risk for adults, children and babies with weakened immune systems. This includes cancer patients, severe burns patients as well as premature babies in neonatal units. For people with cystic fibrosis, it can also cause chronic lung infections.

Why are premature babies at risk?

In hospitals, pseudomonas can contaminate moist or wet reservoirs such as respiratory equipment and catheters. Infections can affect most parts of the body but are a particular concern when the bloodstream is affected.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) says one in four newborn babies who develop an early-onset neonatal infection will die, even when given antibiotics. These infections are usually passed on from the mother's genital tract and include B Streptococcus (GBS), E. coli, Pseudomonas and Kiebsiella. These infections can develop suddenly and rapidly, and the death rate is particularly high in premature babies and those with a low birth weight.

Can pseudomonas infections be treated?

Pseudomonas infection can be treated effectively with antibiotics, especially if treatment is started immediately after confirming the diagnosis. However, pseudomonas is increasingly resistant to many antibiotics.

Serious infections are usually treated with both broad-spectrum penicillin, often in combination with other treatments.

Vaccines currently are being tested to protect people with cystic fibrosis.

What measures should be taken to prevent infection?

In February 2012, the government's chief medical officer reminded hospitals to carry out risk assessments on water systems that may affect patients. This includes direct and indirect contact through for example hand washing, with special attention to special or augmented care units.

In Bristol, the hospital has now introduced pseudomonas screening and testing of babies on the neonatal unit and reviewed infection control procedures to minimise risks.

Babies are now washed in sterile water and the tap water is filtered to remove any pseudomonas bacteria. More regular testing and enhanced cleaning regimes were also introduced.

In Northern Ireland, guidance was also issued saying tap water should not be used in maternity and neonatal units when defrosting frozen breast milk.

Reviewed on October 10, 2012

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