11 children have died after a virus outbreak in New Jersey — here’s what to know about the illness

hospital bed

  • 11 children have died after an outbreak of adenovirus at a New Jersey health facility.
  • A University of Maryland student has also died after an “adenovirus associated illness.”
  •  Adenovirus symptoms can range from mild to severe. 
  • The children affected in the New Jersey the outbreak had “severely compromised immune systems,” health officials said, putting them at greater risk for serious illness. 
  • There’s no specific treatment for adenoviruses, but proper hand washing can help stop the spread. 

 

11 children have died after an outbreak of adenovirus sickened patients staying at a New Jersey medical facility.

In a statement released November 16, the New Jersey Department of Health said there have been 34 cases of the illness in children receiving treatment at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. All the children sickened in the outbreak have “severely compromised immune systems” and became ill between September 26 and November 12, the statement added.

The number of deaths has risen from six to 11 since New Jersey Health officials first announced the outbreak in October

“The grief from the loss of a child is overwhelming and we extend our deepest sympathies to this family and all of the families who have had to endure these terrible losses,” state health commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in the statement.

The virus has also sickened young people elsewhere in the country. On November 1, the University of Maryland learned of an isolated case of a student with adenovirus. Since then, the university has confirmed five additional cases of “adenovirus associated illness”, according to a statement from the school’s Health Cetner. One student at the school — identified in reports as 18-year-old freshman Olivia Paregol — died after contracting the illness, CNN reported on Wednesday. 

Here’s what to know about adenovirus, its symptoms, and the particular strain that’s behind the outbreak in New Jersey. 

Adenoviruses can cause a range of symptoms

Adenoviruses are common and can cause a range of illness, including cold-like symptoms, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and pink eye, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The illnesses caused by adenoviruses can range from mild all the way to severe. Those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for more severe sickness. 

The children affected by the outbreak in New Jersey are “medically fragile” and have “severely compromised immune systems,” according to the New Jersey Department of Health. 

There’s no specific treatment for adenovirus, and since most cases are mild, infected people may only need care to address their symptoms, the CDC adds. 

The strain in the New Jersey outbreak may be more severe

New Jersey health officials said that the outbreak at the Wanaque Center was caused by a particular strain called adenovirus 7. 

The same strain was also detected in one of the University of Maryland cases of adenovirus.

“Unfortunately, the particular strain of adenovirus  … has been particularly associated with disease in communal living arrangements and can be more severe,” a New Jersey Department of Health Statement said. 

On October 30, officials released a report of an unannounced health inspection at Wanaque Center. A statement said the facility “had deficiencies,” but they didn’t indicate that patients received “substandard care.” 

In a statement provided to TIME on October 23, a spokesperson for the Wanaque Center said it “continues to fully cooperate with these agencies and has sought out their medical guidance with respect to the virus. 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.”

The New Jersey Department of Health mandated last week that the facility separate residents without adenovirus symptoms from the residents who have the virus. 

“Previously, the facility was not able to take this action, but as a result of a continuously decreasing census, Wanaque Center now has sufficient space to be able to separate patients,” a department statement said

On November 17, state health officials confirmed that the separation of adenovirus patients was complete

Good hand washing can help stop the spread

washing hands

Adenoviruses are most commonly spread by close personal contact like shaking hands; coughing or sneezing; and touching a surface that has adenoviruses on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, according to the CDC. 

There is a vaccine to protect against adenovirus strains four and seven, but it’s currently only available for members of the US military. In the past, these two strains have caused severe outbreaks of illness among military recruits

Unfortunately, because of their compromised immune system, the children sickened in the Wanaque Center outbreak were not eligible for the vaccine, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.

You can protect yourself against adenoviruses (and other infections) buy not touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands; avoiding contact with sick people; and washing your hands often with soap and water, according to the CDC.

If you get sick, you can help protect others by staying home when possible, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing, avoiding sharing cups and utensils with others, and washing your hands. Just make sure that your handwashing technique is correct for the best protection. 

This post has been updated to reflect new information released by the New Jersey Department of Health and cases of adenovirus reported at the University of Maryland. 

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