Deaths of two new mothers at same hospital WERE probably linked, says expert

Last updated at 16:12 04 January 2008

Two mothers have died from an identical infection after giving birth at the same hospital on the same day. An expert said it was "extremely unlikely" that their deaths were not linked.

Amy Kimmance, 39, and Jasmine Pickett, 29, had their babies at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester on December 21.

Within 72 hours they had both died from complications linked to streptococcus A infection - known as Strep A - which normally causes sore throats.

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Amy Kimmance and Jasmine Pickett

Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust insisted investigations so far showed their deaths were coincidental.

A spokeswoman said Mrs Kimmance developed fatal toxic shock syndrome as a result of a group A streptococcal infection while Mrs Pickett died from a sudden onset of severe pneumonia, likely to have been caused by a group A streptococcal infection.

However, Mark Enright, professor of molecular epidemiology at Imperial College, London, said: "It's extremely unlikely in my view that they are not linked."

Professor Enright said he believed a member of staff had been carrying the infection in their throat, got it on to their hands and passed it on.

He said he would be interested to see the results of laboratory tests on the women to see if the identity of the bacteria was the same.

The deaths raised fresh concern over hygiene and infection control practices in Health Service hospitals.

Earlier this week David Cameron said hospitals would face hefty fines for each patient who catches a superbug if the Conservatives win power, saying infection levels of MRSA and C.diff, which cause several thousand deaths a year, were "unacceptable".

Mrs Kimmance, a teacher at St Swithun's independent school for girls in Winchester, went home with her new daughter Tess to husband David and their two other children on the day she gave birth.

Her condition suddenly deteriorated and she was readmitted to hospital on December 23 where she died of fatal toxic shock syndrome triggered by Strep A infection.

A day later, on Christmas Eve, Mrs Pickett died after suddenly developing severe pneumonia, almost certainly caused by the same infection. She had given birth to her first child, a boy named Christopher.

Both babies survived.

Last night the families of both women spoke of their devastation. Mrs Kimmance's husband John, a sales manager for Ordnance Survey, said: "Amy's sudden death has left a huge void not only for me and my immediate family but for a much wider group of friends and colleagues.

"Amy was so excited to be expecting our third child and was delighted to come home after the birth. I am really still in a state of shock and will miss her hugely."

Mrs Pickett's husband David, of Colden Common, said she was a well-loved and respected school teacher who left her career in the Philippines to start a family.

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Jasmine and David Pickett

He said: "Jasmine has been the kind of wife and partner that most men could only dream of. She was greatly looking forward to raising our son and all that motherhood brings. Sadly she did not get this opportunity."

Streptococcus A is not a superbug, which means if an individual has a sore throat it can be eradicated with antibiotics. But it can cause aggressive infections if it gets into the bloodstream.

There are about 1,200 bloodstream infections linked to Strep A reported to the Health Protection Agency each year, some of which lead to death.

The trust spokesman said that the maternity unit had remained open as there had been no results directly linking it or the staff with the cause of the fatalities.

But she added that extensive swabbing of staff and the unit had been carried out as a precaution.

She refused to confirm whether antibiotics had been given to staff and the families of the dead women, which would eradicate the infection. She added that a full investigation was taking place.

The Royal Hampshire County Hospital missed its target for reducing MRSA last year and had 191 cases of the potentially deadly stomach bug C.diff between April 2006 and March

Its kitchens were severely criticised last year and as a result it now has to submit to six-monthly inspections.

Around 100 mothers die in the UK each year giving birth or shortly afterwards, about two a week.


Streptococcus A

Streptococcus A - known as Strep A - mostly causes throat infections.

At any one time between five per cent and 30 per cent of the population carry the bacteria on their skin or in their throats.

It is easily spread, by person-to-person contact or in droplets from the nose of an infected patient and can be treated, in the case of a sore throat, with antibiotics.

If Strep A gets into the bloodstream through a cut or a rash, however, it can cause fatal illnesses. These include necrotising fasciitis (a flesh-eating disease), and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

Treatment usually involves surgery to remove infected tissue combined with antibiotics, fluids and other medication.