Antibiotic-resistant bacteria were found in the blood of three babies who died at Ewha Womans University Medical Center in Mok-dong, Seoul and in an injection solution given to them, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
This suggests three of the four newborns who died within 80 minutes of each other on Dec. 16, were infected with the Citrobacter freundii bacteria by contaminated injections.
The injections were a nutritional lipid solution laden with fatty acids given the newborns, who were all born prematurely, because they could not be fed by mouth.
Of 16 babies in the hospital, five were given the solution on the afternoon of Dec. 15, and four died the following day.
Further investigation will focus on the question whether or not the solution was contaminated in the process of preparing the injections in the neonatal intensive care unit.
But it is still unclear whether they died of the bacteria.
"We need to take into account all investigations including the National Forensic Service's to determine the cause of the babies' death," a KDCD official said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has shelved a decision to designate Ewha Womans University Medical Center as a tertiary referral hospital for the 2018-2020 period until the cause of the death is found.
Tertiary referral hospital provide specialist care for patients with serious illnesses and can charges high fees.