Doctors Say Infection in IV Treatment Led to Deaths of 13 Newborns in Turkey

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A doctor from a team investigating the weekend deaths of 13 newborns at a hospital in western Turkey said Monday that the deaths were a result of an infection spread by IV treatment, the private Dogan news agency reported.

The babies — all of them premature — died late Saturday and early Sunday at Izmir's Tepecik hospital.

It was the second such incident in Turkey in three months.

In July, more than 27 newborns died of an infection at a hospital for high-risk births in the capital, Ankara. Government-appointed doctors investigating the deaths said a staff shortage had increased the risk of infection.

Recep Ozturk, a doctor at Istanbul's Cerrahpasa University Hospital, said preliminary results of the investigation indicated that an infection caused the latest deaths, Dogan reported. Ozturk, who spoke on behalf of the group of doctors investigating the case, said the babies were infected following IV treatment. He said the infection appeared to be spread by intravenous solution, Dogan reported.

A local prosecutor was investigating whether neglect may have been a factor.

Izmir health department head Mehmet Ozkan said the hospital believed the babies were not neglected. Tepecik hospital was caring for 41 newborns overnight Saturday. After the 13 deaths, the unit was placed under quarantine and no new babies have been admitted. The hospital has 30 incubators and can accommodate 45 infants.

The bodies of three babies buried over the weekend were being exhumed to help with the investigation, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

Hospitals in small towns in Turkey generally lack specialized premature birth units, and high-risk or premature babies are often taken to larger hospitals in cities such Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir.

Health workers unions say, however, that the larger hospitals are often understaffed or ill-equipped to care for large numbers of newborns.

"These unfortunate deaths are very saddening," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "There may have been neglect, this will become clear after the investigation."

"Premature births constitute a high risk, and this may have played a part, too," he said.

Turkey's infant mortality rate is relatively high, at 23.66 in 1,000 in 2005, compared with that of its EU-member neighbor Greece, where 3.8 newborns out of 1,000 died the same year, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.