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Infection found in dead babies

Traces of blood bacteria not conclusive cause, results due Wednesday
Dec 19,2017
Traces of bacterial blood infection have been found in three out of the four infants who died of cardiac arrest on Saturday night at Ewha Womans University Medical Center, according to an epidemiological survey of the public health center in Yangcheon District, western Seoul.

“We found in our blood tests some traces of bacterial infection,” said Moon Yeong-shin, medicinal director at Yangcheon public health center. “We don’t know what type of bacteria it is yet. Health authorities are cultivating the bacteria to find out what it is and we will know by Wednesday afternoon.”

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) in a press briefing on Monday said, “The bacteria found is suspected to be of a type of gram-negative bacteria, but we need further examinations.”

The blood tests were conducted on Saturday afternoon, before the babies died, when they showed signs of hypoxemia, KCDC said. Two of the infants were previously diagnosed at the hospital with necrotizing enterocolitis, an intestinal infection that is known to be fatal to premature infants.

“Among the four infants who died, two were diagnosed with necrotizing enterocolitis,” said a KCDC expert in an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “We do not know yet if the necrotizing enterocolitis was the cause of their deaths. Further investigation is needed.”

“The hospital told me that my baby had necrotizing enterocolitis and that because of it, my baby was having a heart attack,” a parent of one of the dead infants told the JTBC.

“They said the doctors are massaging the heart of the baby and that it may have to undergo a surgery. Then all of sudden they contacted me again in a little while, telling me to be ready for the worst.”

Korea had 141 necrotizing enterocolitis cases last year, according to the National Health Insurance Service. The mortality rate is said to be 20 percent among infected infants.

The Ewha hospital, however, denied the possibility of necrotizing enterocolitis.

“I can say that until the time of the infants’ deaths, no doctor had confirmed that any of the four infants had necrotizing enterocolitis,” said Lee Gil-su of the hospital’s public relations office.

Experts have mentioned lung conditions, necrotizing enterocolitis, bacterial infection or failure of medical equipment at the intensive care unit as possible causes of the infants’ deaths.

“We are leaving all options open, including bacterial infection, fault among the medical practitioners or machinery failure at the hospital,” said Yang Kyung-moo, head of the legal investigation bureau of the National Forensic Service (NFS).

The NFS conducted autopsies on the four infants from 12:20 p.m. on Monday, three hours later than scheduled. The results are expected to be out in a week to 10 days.

“The autopsy schedule was pushed back because the meeting with the parents took longer than expected,” said an NFS employee. “The parents seemed very unsettled. They asked us to check if the babies were infected with bacteria and to uncover if the medical staff was at fault.”

Every infant was examined by five forensic experts.

“This case is a shocking one even among the medical professionals, so each infant’s body is going to be examined very closely by five experts,” Yang said. “Once the autopsies are completed, the forensic experts will meet with the parents to brief them.”

The four infants were moved to the NFS from the Ewha Womans University Medical Center on Monday morning.

They were placed in small white coffins. Some parents broke down at this sight, some wailing loudly while holding onto the coffins.

The infants were from a few days to a little over a month old.

Officials took up the case after one of the parents of the four infants called the police on Saturday night, saying there is something suspicious going on at the hospital, which had to perform CPR on four infants in one night. The four infants died within a two-hour span that night.

“We have on hand more than 20 charts with medical records on the infants,” said a police officer. “It contains information on what they were fed and what medicines they were on, so we expect these records will be very helpful in finding out the cause of their deaths.”

After the four deaths, there were 12 infants left at the intensive care unit for newborns. On Sunday, the hospital discharged four infants and moved eight to other hospitals, in case there was something at the intensive care unit that was at fault for the four infants’ deaths.

One of the four infants discharged was readmitted to the hospital for high fever on Sunday night, within a day of its discharge. The infant is being treated at the hospital.

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