Probe under way after 5 babies die in Klebsiella outbreak at Gauteng hospital

A probe is currently under way to establish the extent of a Klebsiella pneumonia outbreak after the death toll rose to five babies at a hospital in Vosloorus, Gauteng this past week.

The toll initially stood at two babies after seven infants contracted a bacterial infection in the neonatal ward of the Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital in July.

Dr Jatin Ganda, the hospital's acting CEO, said in a release that the last death was on August 28 and infection control measures had been strengthened.

"All exposed infants are segregated with dedicated staff… New admission areas have been scrubbed down and fogged. This ensures that the infection is contained," said Ganda.

Staff had been asked to have a full body disinfectant bath as another measure.

Risk

Department spokesperson Lesemang Matuka said on Monday that 76 babies in the unit had been exposed and 12 had blood infections.

Klebsiella pneumoniae is a bacterium that lives inside human intestines. 

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said Klebsiella pneumoniae is a bacterium that is known to cause different types of healthcare-associated infections, such as pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis, wound or surgical site infections.

People with severe illness, surgical patients, those who stay in hospital for prolonged periods, patients undergoing organ or stem cell transplantation, those in intensive care and people who are on mechanical ventilation are at risk for infections with carbapenem-resistant organisms such as Klebsiella, it explained.

Symptoms include coughing thick yellow, green or blood-tinged mucus and a stabbing chest pain that worsens when coughing or breathing, according to Healthline.

The NICD confirmed on Tuesday it had been asked by the provincial health department to investigate three weeks ago.

"An investigation is currently being coordinated by the NICD and Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Directorate of Gauteng Provincial Department of Health. The aim of the ongoing investigation is to verify the number of persons affected and to conduct an IPC audit," it said in a statement.

DA provincial health spokesperson and MPL, Jack Bloom, recently visited the hospital.

"It is very distressing that so many babies have died from a preventable hospital-acquired infection," he said.

According to Bloom, all the babies who died had been low-weight and premature.

He said new maternity and neonatal patients were diverted to other hospitals.

"I welcome the decision by the Gauteng Health Department to put the hospital's CEO Nomonde Mqhayi-Mbambo on special leave as she ignored warnings by staff that overcrowding in the neonatal ward increased the risk of infection."

KEEP UPDATED on the latest news by subscribing to our FREE newsletter.

- FOLLOW News24 on Twitter