Tanzanian scientists discover new strain of bacteria affecting newborns

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Scientists in Tanzania have discovered a new kind of bacterium which was causing sporadic outbreaks of infections among newly born babies at Bugando Medical Centre (BMC) in Mwanza region.

The new bacterial species, which has been named Enterobacter bugandensis, poses a high risk of death due to high infection rates in babies aged less than one month, scientists said.

This is the first report of an outbreak of a unique species of Enterobacter bacteria in Africa, according to findings published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology. The bacterium has also been associated with milk powder.

It has been named “bugandensis” because of its association with the Bugando Medical Centre, where samples containing the strains of the bacterium were collected in an experiment that took about three years, they said.

Strains of the bacterium were isolated from blood samples of new born babies at BMC in Mwanza, between December 2009 and February 2010. Environmental sampling was performed, with samples obtained from solutions, milk, suction tubes, sinks and mattresses.

For the first time, the researchers at the Catholic University of Health and Allied Sciences (Cuhas), in collaboration with German scientists, were able to isolate the strain of bacteria which had affected 17 new born babies in a neonatal unit at the BMC.

One of the researchers from Cuhas, Professor Stephen Mshana, said that the discovery of the new bacterial species was of public health significance in Tanzania due its potential to cause death in newborns.

In Tanzania, around 32 per cent of children under the age of five die in the first 28 days of life – many infants survive for only a few days, according to reports by UNICEF. The most common causes of deaths are linked to bacterial infections, reports further say.

“The significance of this [newly discovered bacterium] is that it causes neonatal sepsis with high mortality,’’ said Professor Mshana who is a microbiologist at Cuhas.

“The data[which was reported in the study] highlights the need for constant surveillance of bacteria…as well as improvements in hygiene measures in developing countries,’’ the scientists recommended in the study which was

The scientists have recommended that surveillance of this strain must be carried out in the country to determine the extent to which it may have spread.

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