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Newborns delivered at Hong Kong private hospital found with potentially lethal virus

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A baby was found to be carrying a highly dangerous bacterial infection days after discharge from the private hospital where she was born.

The weeks-old infant has now fully recovered. Shortly after the ordeal became known to the public, five other occurrences of the same bacterial infection have sprung up.

The case of Lulu Violet de Kretser-Newell is currently being looked into by the Department of Health. Two days after being delivered at Matilda International Hospital at the Peak by an obstetrician from Central Health Medical Practice via C-section, her parents Martin Newell and Ayesha de Kretser noticed three blisters around the stump of her umbilical cord as well as a red, inflamed fingertip.

Four days old upon her discharge, the blisters had become 5 to 10 millimetres pustules; despite this she was marked healthy by a Central Health paediatrician. At six days old, the blister were as large as 50-cent coins.

On the advice of a family paediatrician from Australia the couple took Lulu to Hong Kong Adventist Hospital where she was diagnosed to have Staphylococcus aureus — the most dangerous of common Staph bacteria — in her bloodstream. She recovered after a week of treatment including an IV antibiotic drip.

Staph bacteria is carried by almost a third of all healthy adults, particularly in their noses. While it often causes no problems, the bacteria is especially dangerous for newborns, can easily transfer hosts through many points of contact, even inanimate objects, and create agressive, life-threatening infections in as little as 24 hours. Some staph infections are resilient against antibiotics. In the last 10 years there have been a number of staph outbreaks in Hong Kong, and have taken place in both private and public hospitals.

Concerned that other patients, infants in particular, may have caught the bug, Martin and Ayesha phoned Matilda International to let them know of Lulu’s condition. The hospital’s deputy general manager denied that there were any bacterial infections, refusing to believe Lulu had her sores when she was discharged.

Ayesha shared her experience on social media, and her story was told by the South China Morning Post on the evening of May 24. Not long after, a number of women who have also recently given birth at the same hospital reached out to her, claiming that their babies also had the bacterial infection.

Those in touch with Ayesha gave birth at Matilda between May 3 and 11, all of which later sought treatment for Staphylococcus aureus infections. Three were under the care of the same paediatrician that passed Lulu. One of the women told Ayesha that she too contacted the hospital, and was also told that there was no infection problem, and that her baby probably contracted it at home.

The hospital has since conducted its own investigation, and is currently cooperating with the Department of Health. According to one executive director it is maintaining correspondence with its patients to provide updates. No infectious disease outbreaks have been reported by Matilda in the last half decade.

Photo by National Institutes of Health (NIH) (National Institutes of Health (NIH)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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