Berlin – Investigators were waiting Tuesday for the results of a post-mortem examination on a third baby to die in as many days at a German hospital after bacteria contaminated their intravenous drips.

Two who had congenital heart defects died Saturday and the third, a baby born very prematurely, died on Monday evening at the intensive care ward of the hospital in the western city of Mainz.

Their feeding solutions had been tainted with Enterobacter cloacae, a common group of bacteria found in human faeces, and Escherichia hermannii, the chief doctor of Mainz University Clinic, Norbert Pfeiffer, said.

Police are still trying to find out how the infections happened and whether anyone can be charged with negligent homicide.

Infections during medical treatment are common in hospitals round the globe, with a 2007 survey showing that in 21 nations, an average 7.1 per cent of patients pick up a bug while in hospital.

That data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Germany tended better than average with a rate of just 3.5 per cent. The news of the Mainz case prompted calls for German hospitals to drastically tighten up their checks.

German Health Minister Philipp Roesler said hospital hygiene would be on the agenda at his next talks with state health officials.

Eleven babies who were on so-called parenteral nutrition because they were too weak or too ill to be breast-fed received the tainted infusion.

The condition of four babies had stabilized by early Tuesday, but they remained gravely ill, the hospital said. The rest have recovered.

Post-mortem examinations of the first two babies to die left it unclear whether the bacterial contamination had been the actual cause of death, senior prosecutor Klaus-Peter Mieth said. The babies had been very ill before the contaminated infusion.

Mieth said the third baby to die had been born in the 24th week of pregnancy. Normally babies come to term after 40 weeks.

Mieth said he was not expecting any decisive results yet from laboratories doing microbiological studies of samples.

Enterobacter cloacae is a group of bacteria that has always been relatively immune to antibiotics. The lab tests may reveal if the type that contaminated the feeding solution originated from human faeces, rotting vegetable matter or some other source.

The case does not involve another bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which has seized public attention.

Hospital-acquired infections are often blamed on complacent staff who ignore checklists of hygiene precautions.

The infusions were mixed in the Mainz hospital pharmacy using solutions from commercial suppliers.

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