Years later, the painful truth behind the death of six pre-term babies in Quebec has finally come to light. Officials of the hospital where the incidents occurred-Quebec's Sainte- Justine Hospital revealed the cause as bacteria breeding in faulty sinks of the neo-natal intensive care ward.
The bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa was discovered to be breeding in colonies within a faulty plumbing system, after several false alarms. The deaths occurred in 2004 and 2005.
Accordingly, almost 50 babies were infected at Sainte-Justine during that period with the bacterium, which is commonly found in soil and water and attacks the respiratory system. It is known to cause pneumonia and blood infections, especially in humans with weakened immune systems.
After the first baby died in 2004, the hospital disinfected the crowded ward and searched for the source of the bacterium but over the next 18 months, five more babies died.
It was when the hospital closed the ward in December 2005 that authorities discovered that the bacterium was breeding in the ward's sinks, which were not draining properly.
Sainte-Justine officials claim they are renovating the hospital's neonatal ward currently, and have changed procedures since the discovery so that no water from the plumbing system comes into contact with babies. Instead of tap water, sterile water is now used. Hospital officials now declare Sainte-Justine Hospital to be totally safe.
Many have criticized Quebec's aging health-care network as it has been hit hard in recent years by outbreaks of severe diarrhea caused by the bacterium C. difficile. It has been linked to insufficient disinfection procedures at provincial hospitals.
Dr. Benoit Cousineau, of McGill University's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, says there is little chance of a pseudomonas outbreak similar to the virulent strains of C. difficile that have caused an estimated 2,000 deaths in Quebec since 2003.
Yet Cousineau stressed the incident at Ste-Justine's as symptomatic of widespread concerns about the spread of germs and hygiene in Quebec hospitals.
"It's not necessarily this bacteria, it's just that the environment in hospitals should be a lot cleaner," Dr. Cousineau opined.