A severe outbreak of adenovirus has killed at least six children at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in northern New Jersey. Authorities are struggling to contain the deadly and highly contagious virus throughout the pediatric center, which provides long-term care for children suffering from severe and chronic health conditions. According to The New York Times, another eighteen children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, are infected with the virus and authorities are having difficulty containing the outbreak.
The adenovirus that caused the outbreak in the pediatric center is generally a mild respiratory illness, according to the newspaper. However, for individuals with weakened immune systems – such as children or those suffering from chronic diseases, the virus can quickly turn into pneumonia and become fatal. The New Jersey Health Department, who was notified by Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation of the outbreak on October 9, said, “The combination of a worse strain of adenovirus together with a fragile population has led to a more severe outbreak.” The New Jersey facility waited a full ten days after notifying the health department to warn parents about the outbreak, leading to an understandable outrage among the families.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for adenovirus. Instead, the outbreak must be limited through preventative measures. The health department has recommended several infection control steps, according to The New York Times, including, “the use of hospital-grade disinfectant against the virus, quarantining sick patients, and ensuring all employees use gloves, masks, and follow handwashing protocol.” While Wanaque Center states they are following the health department’s recommendations, concerns have been raised about whether the nursing and rehabilitation center’s failure to follow health guidelines on infection control caused the deadly outbreak.
While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rated the facility a four out of five, representing an above average score, Wanaque Center received especially low marks for health inspections. In fact, the past three health inspections all found violations of the health code relating to medical professionals not washing their hands and failing to follow other infection control protocols. Speaking to The New York Times, Richard Mollet, the executive director of the Long-Term Care Community Coalition, an advocacy group in New York, said: “It’s pretty unusual to see a facility that’s two stars in citations but five stars in staffing.” Indeed, the facility has never even been fined or sanctioned by the federal government for its violations.
The adenovirus has been fatal at other communal care facilities. In 2003, two developmentally disabled children died from the virus in Yonkers. Worried parents hope health officials are able to control the outbreak and help their children soon. Then, they will be demanding answers and accountability.