SIX children have died in a severe viral outbreak at a US rehabilitation centre for medically fragile children with 12 others seriously unwell.
The New Jersey Health Department has confirmed that 18 cases of adenovirus — viruses that attack soft tissue linings in the respiratory tract, eyes and nervous system — have now hit the nursing and rehabilitation centre in Haskell, about 50 kilometres northwest of New York.
The health department says the outbreak, caused by adenovirus type 7, “is affecting medically fragile children,” according to the health department statement.
Some of those are on ventilators and have had trachea tubes inserted.
“Unfortunately, the particular strain of adenovirus (7) in this outbreak is affecting medically fragile children with severely compromised immune systems,” department spokeswoman Nicole Kirgan said. “The strain has been particularly associated with disease in communal living arrangements and can be more severe.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the virus strain is usually associated with acute respiratory illness.
The health department has not released the ages of the children who have died, but said the deaths at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation took place in the past month.
The Wanaque facility has been “instructed not to admit any new patients until the outbreak ends”.
Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said these kinds of fatalities are not common, but they’re known to happen.
“Here I think you have this kind of nasty combination of very fragile children and this particularly aggressive virus,” he said.
Adenoviruses often cause mild illness, particularly in young children, but people with weakened immune systems are at risk of getting severely sick.
The New Jersey Health Department says it is conducting “an ongoing outbreak investigation”.
Local media says initial reports from investigators indicate staff had “minor handwashing” procedural deficiencies.
According to NJ.com, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently gave the facility a “below average” performance rating. The 2017 report said the facility “failed to ensure infection control practices were followed.” However, the facility was given an “above-average” overall score based on its staffing levels and quality of resident care.
An outbreak of adenovirus 7 at a US Navy training centre in 1997 sickened some 350 people. It’s also been linked to outbreaks of severe pneumonia leading to death in South America.
There is a vaccine. But it is only approved for use with the US military.