Authorities in Spain launched Sunday an investigation into the deaths of at least 18 people in a reported bacteria epidemic at one of Madrid's main hospitals.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, who was on an official visit to Niger, announced a probe into what she described as "a very, very serious incident" at the 12th October University Hospital.
El Pais reported that at least 18 people had died in a bacteria epidemic that infected more than 250 patients over a period of 20 months at the hospital.
The deaths were caused by Acinetobacter baumannii, a highly virulent hospital-acquired infection that has strains that are resistant to most drugs, the daily reported.
The situation was so bad at the hospital that the intensive care unit had to be destroyed so that a new, non-contaminated structure could be built, the report said.
The hospital's director, Joaquin Martinez, denied at a press conference alongside his preventative medicine chief Jose Ramon de Juanes that 18 deaths were directly caused by the bacterial infection.
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," said Juanes.
According to El Pais, the bacterium infected a total of 252 patients between February 2006 and its eradication 20 months later.
More than 100 of those patients died, although only 18 of them directly from this infection, the report said.
The bacterium "contributed to the death" of other patients but "had not been the determining factor," Juan Carlos Montejo, a doctor at the hospital, was quoted as saying by El Pais.
A similar so-called nosocomial infection -- Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) -- has been at the centre of a global scare surrounding bacteria that are impervious to all but a handful of antibiotics.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned last year that "healthcare-associated infections" such as MRSA and Acinetobacter baumannii, are "possibly the biggest infectious disease challenge facing the EU."
Acinetobacter baumannii tends to infect those in intensive care with fragile immune systems and can lead quickly to pneumonia. It is easily transmitted from hospital equipment or from patient to patient.
It led to the death of around 20 people in a several hospitals in northern France in 2003.