File picture: Elisabet Ottosson/Flickr

Durban - At least three newborn babies died in a Klebsiella outbreak at Stanger Hospital on KwaZulu-Natal’s North Coast, the provincial Health Department said on Thursday.

KZN Health spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi and Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo confirmed there were nine cases of Klebsiella identified at the hospital, with the three deaths last week.

“The department is investigating whether the demise of three neonates out (of) the nine Klebsiella cases is directly linked to the virus as these were high-risk neonates,” Mkhwanazi said.

If the deaths are directly linked to Klebsiella, it would be one of the deadliest outbreaks of the virus since 2005, when 22 babies died at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Durban.

However, the DA’s Health spokesman, Dr Imran Keeka, on Wednesday said that according to his information, there might have already been five deaths.

The Klebsiella bacteria in an Intensive Care Unit can cause life threatening septicaemia, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections and other infections.

“As far as the DA is aware, there are currently no steps being taken to curb the infection. We have also been advised that, as numbers rise, highly infectious patients are being referred to other facilities. We hope this will not spread the contamination,” he said.

The department denied this.

“Since the demise of the three neonates at Stanger Hospital, an Infection Prevention and Control team from head office, as well as a microbiologist from the National Health Laboratory Service based in Durban, has been to Stanger Hospital to conduct an environmental and source detection,” Mkhwanazi said.

“A decision has been taken to decongest and disinfect the affected ward in the neonatal nursery,” he said. “Contingency plans have also been put in place to accommodate new admissions, while preventing the mixing of babies.”

There are 550 to 600 deliveries per month at the hospital.

The department did not respond to claims by Keeka that nursing staff who complained about conditions such as staff shortages and long working hours at the facility were being disciplined for their complaints.

Responding to the DA’s comments, the Health MEC said: “I must say the opposition are insensitive to human life. Instead of coming up with solutions, they cause anxiety. We are doing our best to help patients in our healthcare facilities”.

He also told The Daily News this morning there was no overnight report on the condition of the babies at the hospital. He said the department’s investigative team was handling the situation.

Daily News