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48 died on same floor since July at tainted Yokohama hospital

YOKOHAMA -- A hospital here that is the centerpiece of a series of suspected poisoning murders of patients has seen a total of 48 inpatients die on its fourth floor since July this year, sources close to the institution have revealed.

The 48 patients who died at Oguchi Hospital in Kanagawa Ward, Yokohama, include two male patients on the fourth floor who are found to have died after a surface-active agent was laced into their intravenous (IV) drip bags.

While the hospital -- which has 85 beds -- has been aware of the increase in patient deaths, it didn't recognize the incidents as criminal cases. Kanagawa Prefectural Police are also aware of the rise in the number of patient deaths. As most of the bodies of those patients have already been cremated, it is apparently difficult to examine the cause of their deaths.

According to the sources, 48 patients hospitalized at the institution's fourth-floor rooms died over an 82-day period between July 1 and Sept. 20. In late August, five patients died on a single day, and on an early September day four patients passed away. Hospital officials recognized the spike in the number of patient deaths but determined that they died from illnesses as nothing suspicious had been found with their deaths. The hospital didn't report those cases to police.

The hospital's fourth floor primarily accommodates seriously ill elderly patients, including many terminal patients. As it was nothing unusual for patients to die, hospital officials didn't regard the numerous deaths as abnormal.

Two patients -- Nobuo Yamaki and Sozo Nishikawa, both 88 -- died on Sept. 20 and Sept. 18, respectively, after staying in the same room on the fourth floor. They are suspected to have been killed by poisoning after a surface-activating agent was mixed into their IV bags. Prefectural police are investigating the cases as serial murders.

After Yamaki died, a nurse noticed the liquid inside his IV bag was bubbling and the case was reported to police. An autopsy detected surface-activating agent in his body. After police also conducted autopsies on three other patients who had died at the hospital between Sept. 18 and 20, ingredients of a surface-activating agent were detected in Nishikawa's body.

In a related development, Kanagawa Prefectural Police have confiscated three empty plastic bottles of disinfectant called "Germitol" that were discarded at the hospital, according to a source familiar with the investigation. Germitol contains a surface-activating agent, traces of which were detected in the bodies of Yamaki and Nishikawa. Police suspect that disinfectant contained in those bottles was laced into their IV bags and are examining the traces of the agent in the bottles. Germitol was kept at the fourth-floor nurses' station.

Prefectural police have also seized about three used syringes and are examining residual materials to find out whether they were used in the poisoning incidents.

Following the incidents, the hospital had initially announced that it would suspend its outpatient care until Oct. 1, but it recently changed the date to "for the time being."

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