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7 Kids Confirmed Dead After Viral Outbreak Hits NJ Rehabilitation Center

Photograph by Twenty20

Seven children have died as the result of an adenovirus outbreak that occurred in the pediatric wing of the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, New Jersey. The State of New Jersey Department of Health issued a statement yesterday, confirming six of the deaths, but a recent update on CNN reports that another child has died from the virus.

The initial release, dated October 23, stated that health officials were notified of “respiratory illness” at the Wanaque Center on October 9. Eleven additional cases of pediatric infection of the virus have been reported, as well.

“A department team is at the facility today,” wrote Dr. Shereef Elnahal, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health, “and an inspection team was also there Sunday.”

During the inspection on Sunday—presumably 13 days after the call came in, based on verbiage in the release—the team noted “minor handwashing deficiencies” at the center.

The facility was immediately put on lockdown and “instructed not to admit any new patients until the outbreak ends and they are in full compliance," according to the health department.

The facility was immediately put on lockdown and 'instructed not to admit any new patients until the outbreak ends and they are in full compliance.'

Despite the string of viral outbreaks that has been baffling doctors and terrorizing parents, health officials say that this particular strain of adenovirus (#7)—known to cause respiratory symptoms and spread among people living in close quarters (typically only causing "mild illness” in young children)—is affecting the "medically fragile" and "severely compromised immune systems" of the young patients being cared for at the facility.

Though this is true, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security not affiliated with the investigation, says that deaths from adenovirus “may not be as uncommon as we think.”

In an interview with Live Science, Adalja told reporters that, although adenovirus can be a “cause” of severe pneumonia, "often times [doctors] say this person got pneumonia, and they never figure out" what caused it.

The article also states that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved a vaccine against adenovirus strains 4 and 7. The clincher: It's only available for members of the military.

A statement addressing the outbreak, published on the Health Professionals & Allied Employees (HPAE) union website, suggests that there might have been warning signs at the Wanaque Center all along.

“Nurses have reported a shortage of nursing staff, which may lead to poor infection control practices that can put patient safety at risk,” wrote Debbie White, president of HPAE.

“Additionally, the unionized staff have urged administration to provide adequate supplies to protect patients from cross contamination including protective gowns, gloves and masks which can reduce patients’ exposure to the virus," she added.

According to ABC News, Wanaque Center administrator Rowena Bautista said the facility promptly notified all appropriate government agencies when the virus was initially identified—including the New Jersey Department of Health, the Passaic County Department of Health, the Communicable Disease Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The Wanaque Center continues to fully cooperate with these agencies and has sought out their medical guidance with respect to the virus,” she wrote in a statement. “As a result, facility staff have diligently implemented all available infection control and prevention measures in order to protect the health and safety of the Wanaque Center's residents."

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy also posted a release yesterday, saying he was “heartbroken by the news that several children have lost their lives” and is praying for the full recovery of the other children affected by the virus.

"I have been briefed by Dr. Elnahal,” he added, “who has assured me that the Department of Health has recommended vital measures to enhance protections against the further spread of infection and will continue its active on-site surveillance."

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