More than 70 newborn babies have been infected with tuberculosis (TB) in one of Italy's largest and most modern hospitals, local media said on Thursday.
According to official information, 79 babies born in the Gemelli Hospital in Rome have recently tested positive for tuberculosis. However, an influential Italian consumers' rights organization, Codacons, says the figure could be twice as high.
The scandal broke out in mid-August when it was announced that one of the nurses at the hospital's neonatal department tested positive for TB, and all the children born from March to July are under the threat of infection.
Though Italian health authorities deny any risk of a tuberculosis outbreak at the moment and say the infected children will not necessarily become transmitters of the disease, the scandal is gaining momentum.
Prosecutors in Rome have launched an investigation into the incident, but no official charges have been filed so far.
Local media say the hospital management may be blamed for "blatant negligence" and failure to monitor the health conditions of their staff properly.
Tuberculosis is a contagious airborne disease, sometimes described as the "disease of poverty." It affects mostly young adults, with the vast majority of TB deaths occurring in the developing countries.
According to the World Health Organization statistics, 1.7 million people died from TB in 2009, equal to 4,700 deaths a day. A total of 9.4 million new cases were recorded in 2009.