HEALTH bosses were last night trying to reassure parents after a suspected outbreak of E.coli at a hospital day nursery.

Twenty-five children attending the Playdays nursery at The James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, became ill with diarrhoea. Tests showed five had contracted the bug.

E.coli is a relatively rare form of gastroenteritis causing abdominal pain, sickness and diarrhoea.

It is usually caught from contaminated food.

The Health Protection Agency in the North-East is investigating the outbreak. The nursery has been closed until August 30.

Of the five children diagnosed, one is still in hospital and three have been discharged following hospital treatment.

South Tees Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, has been contacting parents of children who attend the nursery, which was closed on August 12 to allow the trust to deep clean the premises.

Managers reopened the property on Monday once the recommended control measures had been put into place.

But it was closed again the same day as a precautionary measure while further investigations take place.

Chief executive Simon Pleydell said: “The outbreak is unfortunate for the families and for the children involved, but there are no implications as far as the hospital is concerned.

“We don’t know the source of the infection, but we do know that nurseries and schools are classic places for the spread of E coli.”

He said parents with children at the nursery had been advised not to take their children to other nurseries because of the risk of further infection.

Mr Pleydell said local tests had come back positive for E coli, but the samples were being analysed to confirm the diagnosis.

“We have been able to bring all the expertise of the hospital to bear. We have had special cleaning, including hydrogen peroxide fogging,” he said.

Director of nursing and patient safety Tricia Hart said: “Our immediate concern was to contact parents to explain the situation and we will, of course, update them when we get further information.

“Although the source of this infection is not yet known, we took the decision to close the nursery in the interests of the children.”

Dr Deb Wilson, of the Health Protection Agency, said: “E coli O157 is a relatively rare cause of infectious gastroenteritis that can cause a range of symptoms from mild diarrhoea to severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea.

“A very small proportion of patients, mainly children, may develop a severe illness that can lead to kidney failure.

“People can catch it by eating contaminated food, such as undercooked meat, contact with infected animals or with people who have the infection.

“The parents of the children who attend the nursery have been advised to call NHS Direct on 0845-4647, their usual GP or out-of-hours service if their child develops severe diarrhoea or diarrhoea with blood.”

Playdays is in a separate building to the main James Cook hospital and provides care for children aged six weeks to school age.