BABIES have been put in quarantine after a potentially-deadly superbug was discovered in the Royal Blackburn Hospital's neo-natal intensive care unit.

The bug, called extended-spectrum beta-lactamase, or ESBL, can cause respiratory infections and lead to life-threatening infections like blood poisoning.

The strain is difficult to treat because it is resistant to many antibiotics, but the hospital's infection control boss said the few babies affected were not seriously ill as a result of it, and that they were being nursed in strictly isolated areas.

The unit has had an "intensive deep clean" following the outbreak, and an investigation has been launched to try to find its source. Other babies on the unit are being regularly screened.

The outbreak was originally picked up through the hospital’s routine infection screening, and bosses said although they were treating the situation seriously, there was no immediate health risk for the babies and the unit remained open to new admissions.

Director of infection prevention and control Rineke Schram said the ESBL organism lived harmlessly in many people’s guts, meaning they were “colonised”, not infected, and that this was the stage of the illness the babies were at.

She said: "I would like to reassure any families with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit that we are taking every possible measure to eradicate ESBL.

“As always, the babies' safety is our main priority and our staff are working hard to maintain the highest level of care possible for them."

ESBL is often connected to urinary tract infections, and mainly affects people who have been in hospital or on antibiotics.

Chairman of Blackburn with Darwen Council’s health scrutiny committee Roy Davies welcomed the hospital’s decision to publicise the problem.

He had criticised directors in October last year, after they delayed releasing information on an outbreak of an aggressive strain of MRSA on the same ward.

He said: “I’m glad the hospital is now approaching issues like this in a different way.

"They are letting us know what is happening and this means we can all work together to help them eradicate the infection.”