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8th child dies in virus outbreak

8th child dies in virus outbreak

An eighth child has died following a viral outbreak at a Wanaque long-term care center that has sickened almost two dozen medically fragile children, health officials said Friday evening. 

The state Department of Health said it did not have “laboratory confirmation” of the presence of adenovirus — a common virus that has claimed the lives of seven others this month — in the child. 

The news came hours after health officials said four more children had become ill with the virus.

Health officials said there have been no patients with new symptoms as of Oct. 22.

But it was not clear late Friday how many children at the center were sick, and Health Department officials did not immediately respond to questions. The eighth child who died was not among the 23 children whom the department said were sickened by the virus in the center’s ventilator unit.

Health officials have given out little information about the deaths, such as if they occurred at the center or at a hospital. They would not say when the first six deaths occurred, only that the children died in October. They have not disclosed the ages of the children who have died, saying only that they ranged in age from “toddlers through young adult.”

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Laboratory tests confirmed the four additional cases of adenovirus, bringing the number of those affected to 23. Their conditions have not been made public. 

The patients who have gotten sick are medically fragile children with compromised immune systems in the ventilator unit at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are taking extra steps right now to monitor people for any signs of infectious illness like pneumonia,” the state health commissioner, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, said in a statement on Friday night. “Not all illnesses are going to be adenovirus. Often people become ill for many reasons, especially this group that has respiratory problems at baseline.”

The facility is also monitoring members of the center’s staff and has posted signs recommending that visitors take precautions if they are sick.

A team of investigators and monitors from the Health Department have remained on site at the center, which sits off Ringwood Avenue in the Haskell section of Wanaque. The facility has been barred from admitting new patients until the outbreak is declared to be over, which will likely be a minimum of four weeks. 

Adenoviruses cause mild illnesses like colds and coughs in healthy people but can be deadly to those with weakened immune systems.

The four children became ill before Oct. 22 — the most recent date of illness onset. All of the confirmed cases involved children who became ill between Sept. 26 and Monday.

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Investigators are trying to determine how the virus spread so quickly at the facility. The center was not equipped to quarantine the stricken children, Elnahal said.

In an interview on Thursday, Elnahal, said the center did not have enough room to isolate the children when they became ill. 

As of Wednesday, the Wanaque Center had 49 children in its ventilator unit, which is licensed for 72 children, health officials said. An additional 20 beds are available for older children in another area, she said. 

The first case of a patient with the adenovirus was noted on Sept. 26. The Health Department was notified of a “cluster of respiratory illnesses” at the center on Oct. 9, after the office closed for the day. Health officials began surveillance work at the facility the next morning.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy speaks about the adenovirus outbreak during a press conference at The Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation on Wednesday, October 24, 2018. New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal looks on. (Photo: Michael Karas/NorthJersey.com)

State officials did not give specific dates for the deaths except for the seventh victim, who died Tuesday night. 

The facility has been cited in annual government inspection reports from 2015 to 2018 for instances of poor patient care and unsanitary practices that could spread infection.

Elnahal described the most recent citations in August as “low level” violations that would not pose a risk to patients. He said they were corrected by the time the department conducted a surprise inspection on Sunday. 

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