Health team scrambles to find source of Chai Wan hospital's mystery outbreak Health officials are scrambling to trace the source of a potentially deadly disease that has hit three newborn babies in a busy hospital within two weeks. Two boys and a girl in Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital have been struck by necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a disease of unknown cause that kills intestinal tissue. The babies, aged 12 to 16 days, are in isolation in stable condition, Centre for Health Protection consultant Thomas Tsang Ho-fai said yesterday. The outbreak comes just under a year after the disease, which usually affects premature or underweight babies, killed one child and infected seven others at Queen Mary Hospital last June. Dr Tsang said two of the victims of the latest cases were premature and weighed less than 2kg at birth. The three babies came from two wards. The first one fell ill on May 27. The consultant said three cases in such a short time 'looks like a cluster'. 'We are trying to figure out whether there are any special reasons for this. We will keep a close watch to see whether there are any additional cases,' he said. The hospital usually has only three to seven cases a year. Dr Tsang said the disease, with symptoms including abdominal bloating and bloody stools, could have a death rate as high as 50 per cent. Treatment included the use of antibiotics and suspending oral feeding. Surgery to remove the damaged gut is needed in severe cases. Dr Tsang said the Centre for Health Protection and the hospital had launched an investigation. He said the cause of NEC had not been scientifically determined, and it is believed to be caused by a number of factors. It is more prevalent among babies born prematurely or underweight, or those with prenatal heart problems. Infections were also a possible cause but no specific bacteria had been linked to outbreaks of the disease. 'Up to this moment, we have not identified any factors of infections from these three babies,' Dr Tsang said. Consultant paediatrician So Lok-yee said the hospital had stepped up precautions including the thorough disinfection of wards, restrictions on visitors and refusal of new admissions to the hospital's paediatric intensive care ward. Private paediatrician Tse Hung-hing described the situation as worrying. 'There is an urgency to identify whether there are any common infection agents in these three cases,' he said.