At least 27 babies at a Soviet hospital were infected with AIDS, apparently after injections with tainted syringes, and four of their mothers became infected after breast-feeding, official reports said Friday.

The reports said if the mothers caught the disease by nursing as doctors believe, it would be the first time AIDS transmission by breast-feeding had been documented.Officials blamed the infant infections on nurses re-using contaminated needles, possibly to cover up the black-market sale of surplus needles to drug addicts, the official news agency Novosti and the newspaper Trud said.

The epidemic surfaced last November after a woman blood donor examined in Moscow was diagnosed as having acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

AIDS causes the body's immune system to break down. There is no cure and, once the virus emerges as a full-blown disease, it is fatal.