The Anatolia news agency is reporting that a suspected bacterial infection may have caused the deaths of 13 newborn babies within 24 hours at a state hospital in western Turkey.
The babies, who were all born premature and underdeveloped, died at the newborns unit at Tepecik hospital in the western city of Izmir on Saturday and Sunday.
AdvertisementA team of doctors specializing in infections and newborn care, who began an inspection at the ward on Monday, said their initial analysis of blood samples from five of the dead babies established the presence of a bacterial infection.
"We are facing a possible outbreak spread through nutritional liquids delivered through the veins," a spokesman for the team, Recep Ozturk, said, adding that a more detailed analysis would follow.
Another doctor, Fahri Ovali said: "We examined the past records of the hospital and we did not come upon such a high mortality rate.... We see these deaths as an accident that developed and came to an end within 24 hours."
Earlier, the chief doctor at the unit, Nejat Aksu, said that his staff were treating premature babies with serious health problems, such as brain hemorrhages, heart problems and severe intestinal pathologies.
"We believe the deaths were caused by the illnesses that the babies already had," he said.
The local prosecutor's office was also looking into the deaths.
On Monday it ordered that five of the babies, who had already been interred before officials became suspicious, be exhumed for an autopsy, Anatolia said.
The bodies of the remaining babies were already at the local coroner's office, it added.
In remarks published in the mass-circulation Sabah newspaper, the hospital's chief physician suggested that high mortality in such a short time led to suspicions of an infection.
The incident at Tepecik hospital is the latest in a string of deaths in recent years that have raised questions over standards in Turkey's newborn units.
In August, a state hospital in the capital Ankara reported that 27 newborn babies had died over a 15-day period.
The hospital said at the time the deaths were caused by a variety of reasons, including hypertension, heart failure and complications at birth.
Trade union officials however blamed them on an infection triggered by poor sanitary conditions.
In 2005, eight premature babies died of a bacterial infection in a hospital in the northwestern city of Edirne, and an infection claimed the lives of seven babies at a newborn unit in the central city of Kayseri.