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Doctor called in over infant deaths

Bacteria was found in IV nutrition given to the four who died

Dec 28,2017
Police summoned a doctor and nurse on Wednesday who worked at the intensive care unit for newborns at Ewha Womans University Medical Center in western Seoul, where four infants died on Dec. 16.

“We are questioning the doctor to see how the doctors’ shifts worked and to ask the doctor about the conditions of the infants before their deaths,” said a police officer. “We are going to ask the nurse to recount what happened at the times of the infants’ deaths.”

The nurse worked at the unit on the night of the deaths.

Four premature infants, from a few days to a little over a month old, died at the intensive care unit for newborns of the Ewha hospital in Yangcheon District, western Seoul, on the night of Dec. 16. All suffered cardiac arrests and died within a two-hour span.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) announced Tuesday that the same type of Citrobacter freundii bacteria found in the blood of three infants who died were found in the IV nutrition injected into their veins.

“The IV nutrition may have been infected while the medical staff prepared it,” said Lee Hyung-min, head of the infection management department of KCDC.

All the infants were on total parenteral nutrition (TPN), which meant doctors fed them by injecting fluids into their veins. TPN fluids are mixed by medical staff based on the patient’s nutritional needs.

The four infants received the infected TPN fluids on Dec. 15.

“We are investigating whether the IV lines or the needle was infected, or whether the medical staff had spread the infection from their bodies,” said a police officer. “We will examine each possibility carefully.”

The police on Tuesday also summoned a nurse and a nursing assistant and interrogated them for some 13 hours each. Their testimonies, however, did not yield any evidence of medical malpractice.

Some experts have pointed to the fact that nine of the 12 remaining infants in intensive care were infected with rotavirus as evidence of general lack of hygiene at the hospital unit.

After the four deaths, the unit had 12 infants remaining, eight of whom were sent to different hospitals and four of whom were discharged.

Rotavirus causes severe diarrhea and some infants can die from the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus spreads through “contaminated hands, objects, food and water,” according to the CDC.

“I cannot but think that the hospital neglected hygienic care for the babies,” said Eum Joong-shik, an expert on infectious diseases at Gachon University Gill Medical Center in Incheon. “A medical staff member needs to continuously and regularly disinfect oneself. But as I understand it, intensive care units for newborns are usually a difficult place to maintain a high level of hygiene because there is so much equipment and not many staff members to clean it.”

“Rotavirus may not be the cause of death, but it could be indirect evidence of the level of hygiene at the hospital,” said a police officer. “We will be questioning the medical staff on this.”

The National Forensic Service’s autopsy results on the four infants are expected around mid-January.

“Our goal is to have figured out the medical and hygiene management structure of the hospital by the time the autopsy results are out,” said a police officer. “Once they are out, we will be able to identify suspects and investigate further.”

Prosecutor Jang Joon-hyuk, who was previously a doctor, has been dispatched to the police team handling the case.

A group of parents of the infants who died submitted a set of questions to the hospital on Wednesday regarding how and why their babies died, asking it to announce the answers publicly by 1 p.m. today.

BY HONG SANG-JI, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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