A nurse in Germany has been arrested on suspicion of poisoning five premature babies with morphine, police said, adding that all the infants survived.
The woman was taken into custody on Wednesday after investigators found a syringe containing breast milk and traces of morphine in her locker at Ulm university hospital in southern Germany.
The babies, who were between one day and five weeks old and staying on the same ward, suddenly developed breathing problems “at almost the same time” in the early hours of 20 December, the Ulm police chief, Bernhard Weber, said.
“Only because of immediate action taken by the staff could the five lives be saved,” he told a press conference.
Doctors do not expect the infants to suffer any lasting harm.
The young nurse had yet to be formally charged but faced five counts of attempted manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, the Ulm prosecutor, Christof Lehr, told reporters.
She denied poisoning the babies, he added.
Hospital staff initially suspected the infants had caught an infection but this was ruled out after urine tests, Weber said.
The tests showed traces of morphine even though two of the babies had not been prescribed the heavy painkiller.
The hospital notified the police on 17 January.
The syringe was found during a search of the lockers of employees on duty around the time of the incident, and testing “confirmed the terrible suspicion that the syringe contained morphine”, Lehr said.
Prosecutors believe the woman acted with premeditation and “accepted that the babies could die” as a result of her actions, Lehr said.
Her psychological state was being evaluated.
The hospital said “rapid medial intervention” meant the babies’ conditions “were stable again within 48 hours and they could breathe on their own again”.
“We very much regret that this incident could have happened and we sincerely apologise to the parents and children,” the hospital said in a statement.
The incident revived memories of Niels Hoegel, a German nurse jailed for life last year for the murder of 85 patients by lethal injection between 2000 and 2005. He admitted giving the injections, which caused heart failure or circulatory collapse, so he could try to revive the patients to impress colleagues.