Prosecutors in Spain have opened a preliminary investigation into the deaths of 18 people linked to a multi-drug resistant bacteria outbreak at a Madrid hospital, a judicial source said Monday.
The purpose is to "clarify all the facts" surrounding the outbreak of Acinetobacter baumannii at the 12th October University Hospital, one of the biggest medical centres in the Spanish capital, the source said.
The El Pais newspaper reported Sunday that 252 people had been infected by the bacteria since February 2006.
So serious was the outbreak that the hospital had to demolish its intensive care unit and build a new one after it proved impossible to eradicate the bacteria.
While El Pais attributed the 18 deaths directly to the outbreak, the hospital's director, Joaquin Martinez, told a news conference on Sunday that the bacteria was contributing factor but not the main cause of ther demise.
Patients in a critical state "die from their illness, accompanied exceptionally by an infection of multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii and other types of micro-organisms, because they are more vulnerable due to their health problems," he said.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned last year that "healthcare-associated infections" such as Acinetobacter baumannii, are "possibly the biggest infectious disease challenge facing the European Union".
Acinetobacter baumannii tends to infect those in intensive care and can lead quickly to pneumonia.
The bacteria enters the body through open wounds, catheters and breathing tubes and is especially deadly to those with lowered immune systems such as the wounded, the elderly, children and patients with immune deficiency diseases.
It is easily spread by unaffected visitors or hospital staff to adjacent wards and other medical facilities.
The bacteria led to the death of around 20 people in a several hospitals in northern France in 2003.